St Mary the Virgin, Fairford, Glos

Fairford church is what most people expect to see in a Cotswold market town, a big 15th c. church at the centre of a well-cared for churchyard. This is the result of a rebuild initiated around 1490 by a rich wool merchant, John Tame, and completed c.1520 by his son Edmund.

The central tower is a design feature retained from an earlier building, as late medieval man (and woman) did not like central towers, because they interfered with people’s view of the High Altar at Mass. John Tame died in 1500 and he was buried in the spot most desired by benefactors, between the chancel and Lady chapel, where his tomb could be used as an Easter Sepulchre.

A plethora of screens means that Fairford church keeps its medieval compartmentalization, though you may not be aware of this, because your attention is taken up by the stained glass windows. What Chartres is to glazing in French cathedrals, so

Fairford is to English parish churches. The church retains a complete early 16th c. glazing scheme from the London workshops of émigré Flemish glaziers (though some windows are much restored).

The great West window revolves around the theme of the Last Judgement. Low down, devils are carting souls off (literally) to the nether regions, while the Devil looks on, a figure with another evil face centred on his chest. But a golden St Michael is busy weighing an innocent, while St Peter is admitting the righteous to the Heavenly Ladder. Above it all, Mary and John the Baptist kneel in prayer before Christ, who is sitting upon the rainbow; around them are a crowd of Apostles, saints and martyrs (even a Pope), surrounded in their turn by hosts of angels in their ceaseless worship. To which may God bring us all at the last.

Map reference: SP152012

Simon Cotton