04 January 2012
When it’s a chapel! The Crypt of the Churches Conservation Trust church of St John the Baptist, Broad St Bristol is partially buried beneath the medieval city walls, under which it was constructed, replacing an earlier church, in the mid 14th century when the city’s north gate was rebuilt.
The crypt is almost as long as the church above, and is remarkable for its fine stonework. The Crypt was originally an independent chapel from the church upstairs, and dedicated to the Holy Cross, a popular subject of medieval devotion, and was closely associated with the wealthy religious guild of the same name. The crypt was a highly desirable place to be buried and income from land owned by the Guild was set aside to pay for its own priest to pray for the dead.
The tombs and graves, all now empty since a 19th century remodelling, cover the floor and fill niches in the walls. There is the tomb of a merchant and his wife with ten children and another of a merchant with his two wives! Above all of them curve delicate stone arches decorated with the finest carved roof bosses – easy to see at just normal room height: bunches of leaves, fruit and peeking birds decorate the roof. Hidden among them, for the really curious, are a Janus-form double deaths head and a wide mouthed foliate mask, or green man, who howls silently above one of the windows.
Post by Rebecca Ireland, Operations Manager, West, The Churches Conservation Trust.
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