Atherington, Devon, St Mary's Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 16th century rood loft and carved screen
Most of the present building is in 15th century Perpendicular style, but the north aisle is Tudor, built by the Bassett family around 1579. The Bassetts were descended from Edward IV through his son, Arthur Plantagenet (see below).
Remarkably, the screen we see today is only a small section of the original, which stretched across the entire width of the church. Some time around 1800 the chancel section was removed, leaving only the north aisle screen intact. A much plainer screen, probably brought from the Bassett family chapel at nearby Umberleigh, was installed to replace the chancel section.
The octagonal font is 15th century, each face carved with a quatrefoil, with 4 faces also bearing a blank heraldic shield. There are also a series of 7 finely carved 15th century bench ends.
Effigies and TombsSt Mary's boasts a wonderful series of historic memorials, some brought here from Umberleigh chapel when the chapel was torn down in the early 19th century. The chapel, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was established in the 13th century by Lady Joan Champernowne, daughter of Sir William Champernowne of Umberleigh. Lady Joan married a knight from Gloucestershire named Sir Ralph Willington. Curiously she retained her maiden mame, yet the couple's sons were all called Willington.
Next to the Sir John Bassett tomb is a simple grave slab to Sir Arthur Bassett and Elianora his wife, daughter of Sir John Chichester of Rawleigh. Sir Arthur tragically died of gaol fever at the Exeter Assizes of 1585. Sir Arthur's son, Robert, claimed the throne of England when Elizabeth I died in 1603. His claim was based on the Bassett descent from Arthur Plantagenet, and claimed that Edward IV was in fact married to Arthur's mother, Elizabeth Lucy. As history records, his claims went unheeded and the throne passed to James I and VI of Scotland.
VisitingThe combination of the medieval Tudor tombs, roof bosses, carved bench ends, and most of all, the exquisite screen and rood loft make Atherington's church an absolute delight to visit. When I came to Atherington I found the door locked and no indication of where I might find the key. Acting on a whim I asked at the village shop across the street, Lucky for me, the shop keeper proved to also be the keyholder, and I was able to get into the church. So if the building is locked, and you don't see any signs indicating a keyholder, try at the shop first!
About Atherington, St Mary's
Address: Atherington, Devon, England, EX37 9HU
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: At the junction of the B3217 and B3227 in the centre of Atherington. Ask for the church key at the village shop opposite.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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Castle Hill Gardens - 6 miles (Garden)
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Nearest Accommodation to Atherington, St Mary's:
Nearest Self Catering Cottages
Nearest Bed and Breakfasts
Tourist Information Centre
Museum of North Devon
Tel: 01271 375 000
Fax: 01271 374 037