Heath Chapel, Salop

Heath takes some finding, but if you drive round the winding hedge-lined byroads NE of Ludlow for long enough, you will come to it eventually, on the slopes of Brown Clee Hill, above Corve Dale.

The building stands by itself in a field; nearby are the earthworks of what had been a flourishing Norman settlement, which failed to survive the combined impact of the Black Death and 14th c. climate change. The church itself is a simple double-celled building of nave and chancel that has not altered in its essentials externally since it was built around 1150, shortly before Thomas Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Collect the key from the nearby farm, and push open the door onto an interior that has seen few changes since the 17th c. provided its Prayer Book interior, with box pews and a two-decker pulpit, the same epoch that gave it the rare three-sided altar rails. To help him read his text, the Laudian preacher had the Laudian benefit of a square 17th c. window inserted in the north wall by the pulpit, otherwise the few windows are the original 12th c. slits. There’s a plain circular 12th c. tub-shaped font, harmonious with the chaste decoration of the chancel arch and south doorway. How wonderful and mysterious this simple, dark, little church must have seemed to its 12th c. congregation.

Reflect: ‘My house shall be called the house of prayer, saith the Lord: in it every one that asked receiveth: and he that seeketh findeth: and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.’

Thomas Merton wrote: ‘Let there always be quiet, dark churches in which men can take refuge. Places where they can kneel in silence. Houses of God, filled with his silent presence.’