Blessed Virgin Mary, Batcombe

Come to Batcombe from Frome; when you turn off the A359, the minor road immediately starts diving and twisting down into a wooded valley, before reaching the village. Drive the length of the village street, and further twists in the road bring you to the church. Its little chancel is dominated by the clerestoried nave and, above all, by the late Perpendicular tower, whose west door is the entrance.

Visit Batcombe in the afternoon, when light floods through the big west window, illuminating harmonious furnishings (Jacobean altar rails; pews of 1960; Big Six on the High Altar). One of Somerset’s finest towers, its design is sui generis, combining the motif of triple windows in the belfry stage found at Mells and Leigh to the north (and Bruton to the south) with the long-panelled windows of Evercreech to the west. Flanked by six angels, a statue of the Resurrected Christ still occupies a canopied niche above the W. window – the lowest two angels hold scrolls; the next two above hold a ladder and nails, instruments of his Passion; and the top two swing censers.

Just over a dozen miles away, beyond Wells, a similar sculpture is found on the contemporary tower at Chewton Mendip; designed by a different architect, but maybe sharing a sculptor for this one special job. Going up in 1539, when parishioner George George left 20s. in his will to ‘the byldyng of the Towre of Batcombe’, this splendid tower testifies to the vitality of church life on the eve of the Reformation, and its sculpture reminds us of its spiritual underpinning.

‘For the first disciples the Gospel without the Resurrection was not merely a Gospel without its final chapter: it was not a Gospel at all’ [Michael Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ].