ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS, GREAT WITLEY, WORCS
Not a short haul from the main road, and the track ahead is pot-holed, but the visit repays all. The first Lord Foley rebuilt Witley Court in the early eighteenth century; the church was a rebuild (1733-5) by his widow. This brick church, possibly by James Gibbs, was encased in stone in 1861. Prepare to be gobsmacked by Britain’s finest Baroque interior, and enter.
Originally, it was like many other eighteenth-century interiors, with box pews and high pulpit (restored away in the 1860s), but in 1747 the second Lord Foley gave it the ultimate makeover, importing ceiling paintings, stained glass windows and organ case from the Duke of Chandos’s Cannons Chapel in Little Stanmore. Walls and ceiling are covered in gold leaf on papier-mache, from moulds of the original plasterwork by Giovanni Bagutti. Above you is a large Ascension by Antonio Bellucci, flanked by a slightly smaller Descent from the Cross, a Nativity and ten smaller medallions; tiny cherubs hold the Instruments of the Passion.
Joshua Price executed ten windows to Italian designs in 1719-21, combining enamel and staining; nine feature the life of Christ, the tenth, perhaps not so incongruously, the worship of the Golden Calf. Michael Rysbrack’s huge monument to the first Lord Foley, his wife and five children is tucked away behind the pulpit, in the south transept. After all this, the altar piece at the east end (1913) is a bit of a let-down; you expect something out of the travels of Sacheverell Sitwell, and wish that Martin Travers had been let loose here. Many eighteenth-century churches speak of God’s drawing room; this is more like his art gallery.
Rejoice! See, the Conqueror mounts in triumph; see the King in royal state. Reflect: he has raised our human nature on the clouds to God’s right hand. Pray: Holy Ghost, Illuminator, shed thy beams upon our eyes.