St James’ Church – Shere.
The village of Shere in Surrey is arguably the most filmed village in Surrey. Scenes from Bridget Jones – The Edge of Reason was filmed in this church. St James’ Church – Shere itself stands on the Pilgrims’ way, the ancient road from Winchester to Canterbury. The Church, together with its Norman tower, was built in 1190. The spire being added later at some point between 1213 and 1300. It is likely however that a church has been on this site for longer as the Domesday book of 1087 mentions a church at Shere, formerly Essira. As you would expect, this church is stuffed full of history!
The church sits by the River Tillingbourne and the grounds, of course, are full of gravestones and the obligatory Yew trees. As you well know, early Christianity borrowed a lot of its traditions from existing religions. In Druidic Britain, the yew was a symbol for the regenerative power of nature. Of course, as a long-lived tree, it was the perfect symbol of everlasting life.
In Christianity, only the pretext changed: coupled with other evergreens, the yew was recognized as a symbol for the Resurrection and particularly employed at Easter celebrations. As early Christians often built their churches on these druidic sites, correspondingly, the association of yew trees with churchyards was perpetuated.
The walls of the church are a hodgepodge of materials where they have been repaired over time. They include re-used Roman tiles, flint, Caen stone imported from Normandy, Tudor bricks, and local stone. The small south porch made of brick and timber protects a Norman doorway and an original 12th or 13th-century door, studded with nails.
The doorway is from the 13th century, the timber west porch dates to 1547. Furthermore, the door itself dates to 1626. And, the doorways do give you a great sense of history.
The windows in the Lady Chapel and chancel contain fragments of medieval glass. Other windows show the red rose of Lancaster, installed in the church when the Shere estate was owned by James, the 2nd Earl of Ormond, in the 15th century.
The engaging story of the Anchoress of Shere 1329 is well worth a read. Anchorites are medieval phenomena and are basically a religious hermit but they stay in one place, usually in a cell in a church. You can still see the small window of the cell today. The story is quite fascinating.
Also, in the chancel, you can see memorial brasses dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Including that of John Redford and his family, other brasses are for John, Lord Audley (d. 1491) and Robert Scarcliffe, Rector of Shere, who died in 1412.
Battle of Shere
In 1258 the Bishop of Winchester ordered about 50 of his men to pilfer treasures from Shere Church and take them to France. A group of local men tried to stop the Bishops force, and one of them was killed, at what became known as the ‘Battle of Shere’. The locals sued the Bishop, but the Bishop was, unsurprisingly, able to gain a pardon for all his men.
On the wall inside of the church, is a list of rectors of the church as known from 1270. Undoubtedly, this is a fairly accurate list as it used to be the clergy in those days that could read and write.
Shere itself has plenty of history and equally important, is a very picturesque little village. The local pub, the White Horse is good too. Indeed, click here to read more about the White Horse and its history, including the ghosts. It is one in my series of my Historic Pubs of Surrey.
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