Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 68

Transcribed and edited by Dr Roger Peters

Full text available at


Prepared by Michael Steer

Between 1908 and 1916, John Stabb, an ecclesiologist and photographer who lived in Torquay, published three volumes of Some Old Devon Churches and one of Devon Church Antiquities. A projected second volume of the latter, regarded by Stabb himself as a complement to the former, did not materialize because of his untimely death on August 2nd 1917, aged 52. Collectively, Stabb's four volumes present descriptions of 261 Devon churches and their antiquities.

COMBE-IN-TEIGNHEAD. [All Saints.] The dedication of this church is uncertain; it has been ascribed to St. Nicholas, but with doubtful authority. The earliest authentic record is the entry in Bishop Bronescomb's Register of the institution of Sir Henry de Bratton as rector on May 21st 1259, but no mention is made of the saint to whom the church is dedicated.

The church is in the Perpendicular style, built of local red sandstone, and contains a good rood screen and some remarkably fine bench-ends.

The tower was restored by the Rev. John Wrey in 1850.

Entering by the north porch, over which are the arms of Exeter, we find the interior to consist of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, and north and south transepts.

The chancel leans slightly to the south, in old churches the chancel was often built in this way, being symbolic of the leaning of our Lord's head while on the Cross. Other examples of this inclination of the chancel are at Kings Nympton and East Budleigh.

The Norman font [plate 68a] has a circular bowl, with a narrow band of carving round the top, the rest of the bowl is carved with star mouldings, and underneath is a cable twist; it is mounted on shaft and plinth raised on two modern steps. The screen, consisting of five bays across the chancel, was restored in 1904, and fan tracery and groining replaced [plate 68b]. The loft door on the south of the chancel is blocked up, but within living memory the ancient rood loft was in existence, and used, as was the case at Totnes, as a family pew. On each side of the chancel there are hagioscopes.

The north transept now belongs to the Carews of Haccombe, here will be found some very fine carved bench-ends, as fine as can be found in any church in Devonshire. There are grotesque animals on the tops, and the panels are carved with representations of St. Catherine with her wheel and sword, St. Mary Magdalene, St. George and the Dragon, St. Agnes, St. Genesius [or St. Genes(t)], St. Hubert, St. Paul, St. James the Great, and two figures with staves.

There is one bench-end with a sloping top [plate 68c], the panels surrounded with a border of leaves, with two faces at the bottom corners. On the top is seated an animal difficult to describe; it might be intended for a lion or a monkey. The subject of the panel is St. Catherine; she is depicted with long, flowing hair, and what appears to be a crown on her head. In her left hand is a sword, and in her right, a wheel. Eusebius [Bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, ca. 260-341] says that she was distinguished both for her wealth and family, but because she refused the advances of Maxentius [Emperor of Rome, 305-312], he punished her by sending her into exile, and taking away all her wealth. The legendary story is somewhat different. According to this, she was the daughter of a king. She was invited by Maxentius to contend in public argument with 50 philosophers, whom she convinced, with the result that the whole 50 were condemned by the Emperor to be burnt. He then made advances to St. Catherine which she refused, and he ordered her to be whipped. She was condemned to be executed on a wheel set with razors, but when she was placed on upon it, the wheel broke, and the razors flew off, much damaging the bystanders. Her head was then cut off with a sword, and angels came and carried her body to Mount Sinai.

There is another bench-end with square top [plate 68d], the panel also surrounded with a border of leaves and faces at the lower corners; there are grotesque animals seated on the top. The panel of this bench-end is divided into four compartments. The lower left-hand panel is interesting- on it is carved a figure of St. Genesius arrayed in fool's dress with cap and bells. He is seldom represented in art, and I have not come across him in any other Devonshire church. He was a clever actor and mimic, and in the time of Diocletian [Emperor of Rome, 284-305] was acting in a play intended to burlesque Christianity. The play chosen was intended to represent a man who had begun to doubt the truth of his own religion, had lost faith in the old gods, and became alarmed as to his future. Hearing the Gospel, he believes and calls for baptism. The whole was intended as a burlesque; when he called for baptism an actor dressed as a priest came on the stage, and the ceremony of baptism was gone through; then some other actors dressed as soldiers, rushed on and dragged the convert to the Emperor's box. Arrived before the Emperor, Genesius sprang upon a pedestal, throwing down a statue of Venus, and declared that while he was acting and pretending to be sick and dying, his eyes had been opened to the truth, and when the water touched him his heart went with the words he said. He then boldly confessed his faith in Christ. The Emperor at first thought it was all a continuation of the burlesque, but when he found he was mistaken, ordered that Genesius should be beaten; then he was taken before Plautianus, the prefect, who tortured him on the rack, but his constancy did not fail him, and he was beheaded.

The registers date: baptisms, 1669; marriages, 1653; burials, 1653.