Reprinted from Newsletter 129, dated 2009 August

Happenings at St Ben’s Church

Roger Parsons

A sculpted bust in a beige-coloured material. It depicts a man with a mostly-bald head and a moustache and long beard. It stands on a plinth carved out a different material which looks like stone.

St Benedict sculpture by Richard Field

Many will know that St Benedict’s is entering momentous times. The church is to have a much-needed facelift within the next few years, thanks to monies received from the sale of the church hall. With the installation of modern kitchen facilities, better access for the disabled and a general rationalization of the body of the church, it is hoped that this beautiful building will become a more obviously welcoming venue for those who wish to take advantage of its unique atmosphere as a place of prayer.

St Ben’s was founded as the Church of St Benignus in the late 11th century, then greatly enlarged and embellished in the time of the penultimate Abbot, Richard Bere. Richard Bere’s stamp is to be seen everywhere, from his Bishop’s mitre and monogram over the north porch, to the original roof corbels in the nave.

The church possesses some fine stained glass, much of it installed in Victorian times when a south aisle was added. One in particular is dedicated to Reginald Porch, who died in India possibly never having seen his yet-to-be famous son, Monty, who married Winston Churchill’s mother Jennie.

Perhaps an even more famous son of St Ben’s was the novelist Henry Fielding, who was born at Sharpham Park in 1707. The baptism of Henry’s younger sisters at St Benedict’s is recorded, but the register for Henry’s early years is sadly missing. Sharpham was built by that busy Abbot Bere—hence the Sharpham Chapel in St Benedict’s, which has housed the organ since the early 19th century.

Recent happenings include the discovery of rare sheet music: poems by Alice Buckton set to music by Frederic Brooks for the Glastonbury Pageant of 1921. The same cupboard held some of Brooks’ own liturgical compositions from a decade or so earlier. The originals are now housed safely in the County Record Office, but copies are available to those who would like them.

The church is serious in its wish to be more accessible, opening its doors more and more, to schoolchildren from across the road and to the visitor from far and near. It will not take them long to find the newest addition—a fine bust sculpted by a local artist, Richard Field, and dedicated to St Benedict.