Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 246

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.

WARKLEIGH. St. John. The church, which has been restored, consists of chancel, nave, south aisle, south porch, and west tower. There is a curious opening in the pier of the easternmost arch, but architecturally the church is not of much interest. It however possesses two objects which make the church well worth a visit. In the tower arch are the remains of a fine screen with Renaissance detail; it has been compared with the screen that once enclosed a pew at the Church of Mary Tavy [Dartmoor]. After being taken down, before 1850, the neglected fragments were kept in the church, and in 1850 these fragments were made into a screen for the tower arch.

The second object of interest is probably unique, and is well known as the "Warkleigh Tabernacle" [plate 246]. The tabernacle, made of wood or stone, is the receptacle for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. This specimen is made of wood and had been richly coloured. Front, back and sides have a green field enclosed within a vermilion border. There is a circle in the middle of the field consisting of a jewelled ring of gold. On the door and back within the rings are Tudor roses etched in with black; the sides have stars in vermilion on a white ground. Each jewelled circle is surrounded with a wreath of red and white sprays of leaves. The corners of the box are cusped with white, and within the cusps are gilt roses. There is a jewelled gold circle on the top with an arcading of white on black and red, the whole surrounded by leaf work in a wheel. (This description of the colouring is gathered from an article by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould, in The Transactions of the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society, Vol. 5, p. 126.)

The following description, taken from the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, December 14th 1905, is on printed paper in the church:-

"J. B. P. Karslake, Esq., M.A., F.S.A., by permission of the Rev. J. J. Thorold, exhibited an ancient tabernacle which is now preserved in Warkleigh Church, Devon.

A description of this object has already been published by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould in The Transactions of the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society for 1892, with a mechanical and somewhat rude coloured illustration. In his observations Mr. Gould has omitted to notice that the tabernacle is made up of older materials, or that the moulded wooden base is unpainted, and he says nothing as to its probable date. The tabernacle is formed of a box which must have been about 8 inches high, made of thin oak boarding, with a top and bottom of the same material.

All four sides and the top have been decorated with colour and gilding. The box was originally 5- inches square, but has been somewhat cut down, and differently put together again to insert it into a plain oaken block with semi-classical mouldings. The box was probably first made and decorated with colour during the third quarter of the fifteenth century, and evidently came from the same workshop as the painted housing of a St. John's head of alabaster now in the Leicester Museum, which was exhibited to the Society in 1890, and subsequently illustrated in Archæologia.

The box was probably reconstructed in its present form to serve as a temporary tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament on the restoration of the old form of service at the Accession of Queen Mary [1553], in place of the hanging Pyx which had been appropriated to the King's use in 1552. The roughly made hinges and lock are of the same date as the conversion of the box into a tabernacle."

The registers date from 1538.