In many ways Holy Trinity is a typical large town church: a Norman tower has been engulfed by a growth of four naves, with other embellishments; the interior is untidy with children's play areas and outreach information boards and other clutter which I suppose at least testifies to a busy and enthusiastic support making the most of the available space. Fortunately, the points of interest for the visitor are chiefly above all that - in the literal as well as metaphorical sense. Firstly is the originally fifteenth century waggon roof, but which the Victorians went to town on, adding elaborately decorated and coloured wooden panelling above the chancel and particularly above the choir. This draws the eye upward immediately, and it is only after that one notices the extraordinary corbels down either side of the nave. These are so bizarre, and in a couple of instances obscene, that it is difficult to imagine the brief that was handed to the masons; "Whatever you dreamed about last night - that'll do". In which case the authorities must have been relieved that the twenty-five figures were skied almost out of sight - till God provided binoculars. The figures could be templates for Hieronymous Bosch, this mad mixture of half-animal, half-human gesturing grotesques. Stranger yet, each forms the base for wooden angels carved by a local man in the Victorian restoration to match their predecessors. Were they too painted black and gilded? But why not?
Nearer to earth, but just a little, there are some lovely stained-glass windows, mostly of Victorian date.
Holy Trinity is authentically busy, crowded and eclectic; and could not be more of a contrast with St Petrock's at Parracombe, about ten minutes up the road. I went there next. It's an expedition along the steep and narrow village street, and by a winding country lane which ends brusquely in the trees that shroud the little church.
The stone body of the church hunkers down among high hedges in summer sunlight; a conventional enough mixture of thirteenth century chancel and fifteenth century double aisle. But inside it breathes the spirit of the the eighteenth century countryside, one of the most visited churches in the country (though I had it to myself in May) and the very first to be acquired by the Churches Conservation Trust.
No overzealous Victorian restoration here; in fact, the Victorians sought to pull down its leaning walls ( the photo below is not misleading!) and it was only due to the likes of John Ruskin that it was saved. But how appealing to modern tastes! Plain white walls set off time-bleached box pews. Grey and Green and Buff predominate., from the random slate floor to the wooden tympanum over the low chancel screen, covered in texts of eighteenth century script, and topped by the Hanoverian royal arms, where just a little flourish of colour was permitted. At the west end, the pews rise up theatrically, to accommodate the village band: it is said that St.Petroc's was the last church in Devon to have such accompaniment. No doubt the musicians hung their coats on the nearby pegs the better to tune their instruments. In the current somnolence, one can almost catch a ghost of that West Gallery sound, the serpent and the bass viol. There is a clatter as the instruments are laid aside, and the minister,(who looks like Laurence Sterne) gathers the sleeves of his surplice to mount the little pulpit, clears his throat. His text, from Corinthians, is written on the sounding board over his head: For we preach not ourselves....