ST GILES, CHEADLE, STAFFSThe 200 foot spire of St Giles dominates the market town of Cheadle. The central position of the church, near the High Street, shouts ‘parish church,’ but this one isn’t; at least, not an Anglican one. You turn off the street to be greeted by the gilded Shrewsbury lions mounted on the red west doors, a reminder that it was financed by a young, rich and devout Catholic, John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury. His architect was August Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52), who here designed the finest of all the churches he produced in his short flame-like life.
Entering through the south porch, the first thing you notice is the smell of incense, while your eyes acclimatise themselves to the level of light. Only the west window has plain glass; all the others are filled by fine glass of the 1840s by Wailes. This church has everything that could be desired by a Camden Society ecclesiologist – brass eagle lectern, encaustic tiles by Minton, a richly decorated chancel roof, and stencilled, painted walls.
Pugin realized his wish for a proper Rood screen (said to be modelled upon Castle Acre in Norfolk) topped by a Rood group, and a Last Judgement over the chancel arch. Facing each other in the chancel are an Easter Sepulchre, to the north, and, to the south, triple sedilia and piscina (with credence shelf, naturally). Pugin would have despaired of the forward altar, but at least it is not a kitchen table in the nave. Yet perhaps the finest part of the building is the Blessed Sacrament chapel, at the east end of the south aisle, covered in eucharistic imagery. Here, before Hardman’s exquisite brass gates, kneel in adoration before the tabernacle.
Consider: in all that Pugin did, he sought for perfection and gave his best to God. Can we say the same?