The Church Priory The Church Priory

Notices The Church Priory

Posted: Thursday 20th May '21

Updated: Monday 14th June '21

Frithelstock The Church Priory


The principal entrance to the Church was in the centre of the West End. The present doorway has a hollow moulding and stoop of the 14th Century and replaces an original narrower door of which the relieving remains. The Western gable has three lofty widely splayed lancet windows centre one of which has a trefoil head and relieving arch.

The Church was divided into three parts. At the West End an open space extends for 33ft beyond which a rise of 1ft 4ins indicates the position of the two steps leading to the choir. Beyond these steps the choir extends for 30ft and beyond this a further rise of 1ft 4ins marks the sanctuary. The west window on the north side has a long opening but the others are set high in the wall to clear the now absent pent roofs; the line of these is marked by the weathering on the outer face of the walls.

It is believed that an aisled Church was planned but never completed. The lofty pointed arch on the south wall is apparently an original feature. The South West corner is embedded in the parish church wall – the site of the tower of the Priory is attributed to the 14th Century. No trace has been found of the high altar, which would have stood clear of the east wall in the centre of the sanctuary.

The Lady Chapel later added to the East End of the sanctuary is also built of local stone but the dressings are of a yellow oolite from the area around Bath. This would have been brought by water carriage, the most convenient form of transport in the Middle Ages.

Note: – the base of the recess for the sedilia (a group of three seats on the south side of the sanctuary where the celebrant and ministers sit during High Mass) at the East End with traces of the original seating. The Altar stands in the middle of the east wall on which rested a mensa or slab about 3ins thick. The remains of the coarse white plaster, which covered the inner face of the walls, can still be seen. The great court of the monastery was to the west of the Church and the Canons cemetery was east of the present Churchyard.


PARISH CHURCH OF SS MARY AND GREGORY from information written by Fr Leonard Budge the last resident Vicar of Frithelstock

The ruins at the north-eastern corner of the Church are all that is left of the Priory founded by Sir Robert de Bello Campo about the year 1220 and endowed for a small community of Augustinian Canons. His purpose was that there should be someone to pray for the repose of his soul forever after his death. Bishop Walter de Stapledon who was born at Annery, the great house near Monkleigh, increased the endowments and is considered a co-founder with Sir Robert. The church building that still stands was probably built for the families of the Priory retainers and the inhabitants of the village, which grew up nearby.

Over the porch there is a sundial with the message ‘Umbra Sumus’ – ‘we are shadows’. In the porch there is a fine stone holy water stoup. The handle in the middle of the Church door, like a knocker, is thought to be a Sanctuary Ring. In ancient times we are told that any criminal fleeing from the law was safe if he could grasp it.

The font just inside the door is of unusual design and very old. Its date is unknown but may be Norman or early English. The tiled base is of course Victorian. There are however, many fine mediaeval tiles in various places in the floor of the Church. These were made in Barnstaple.

Just opposite the south door you will see the wall which is the oldest part of the Church. It is thought that it dates from the thirteenth century but it could be older that that. On this wall there is a fine plaster Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II who restored freedom to the English people after the grim days of the Commonwealth when no one was allowed to dance or make merry, the Prayer Book was forbidden and even Christmas was done away with. No wonder they welcomed the Merry Monarch when he came back. This monument shows us what Frithelstock people thought about it. John Abbott of the Manor of Culleigh in this parish did the plasterwork and was paid £13.

Half way down the church a small door with a flight of steps leads up to an opening above the pulpit. This was the entrance to the Rood Screen, which once went right across the Church at this point. A small piece of carved wood in the front pew may be the only remaining part of what must have been a wonderful screen.

The pews at this end of the Church are ancient, probably of the fifteenth century. The ends are beautifully carved with different symbols notably the Instruments of the Passion, the Crown of Thorns, the whip, the reed etc. There is also the figure of a hart, which recalls our connection with Hartland Abbey, and the two heads of ecclesiastics facing each other with their tongues out. This is probably an allusion to a dispute between the Bishop of Exeter and the Prior of Frithelstock in the Middle Ages.

The pulpit is Jacobean and may have been brought here from another church. The organ, although it has only a single manual, has a very sweet tone. Behind the organ in the part of the aisle curtained off as a vestry there are memorials to the Gay family. These are thought to be connections of John Gay of ‘Beggar’s Opera’ fame. This is the newest part of the Church and was probably only just completed before the dissolution of the priory in 1536.

There is no fine stained glass in the Church. That in the west window, a memorial to the Carwithian family, is pleasant Victorian glass but the colours of the east window are too violent for comfort.

In the magnificent tower there are six bells, two of which are mediaeval. One is dedicated to the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The bells are extremely heavy and have a very fine tone but are difficult to ring, owing to the old fashioned and worn bearings on which they are hung. The sixth bell, which is a treble, was dedicated by the Dean of Exeter, Dr Gamble, in May 1924. The bell weighs six and a half hundred weight and bears the inscription ‘Glory to God’. The cost of the new bell, having the other five bells retuned, and installation cost £125 and was completed by Messrs Stokes & Son, Church Bell Hangers, Woodbury. The largest bell is the tenor, which weighs 17cwt and is inscribed ‘IU Abbott ne pigres 1656’.

The Green men found in many churches have pagan origins and differ widely. The one in St Mary and St Gregory can be seen at the rear of the Church by the tower opening and facing towards the altar. This apparently is not a common position for him to be found.


Extract from Frithelstock Past and Present, reproduced with the kind permission of the Frithelstock Book Group

Key contacts

All the contact details have been given for the local clubs and groups, but please do contact us if you have any questions about what you’ve seen on this website.
Church : Sidney Adams 01805 622300
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W.I. : Maureen Poole  01805 622834

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