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North Devon is treasure trove for ancient bench ends

By NDJAndrea  |  Posted: October 24, 2012

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CHURCHES in North Devon are a treasure trove for those wanting to learn more about ancient carved bench ends.

Braunton and Hartland's churches have the largest collections in the county, according to Dr Todd Gray, an Honorary Research Fellow at Exeter University.

He will be giving an illustrated lecture on bench ends, which are the subject of his latest book, at St Brannock's Church in Braunton next Wednesday, October 31, at 2pm.

He said: "North Devon is at the heart of the surviving ancient bench ends of Devon.

 "What is interesting about North Devon is that it is the only part of the country to include carvings of the Instruments of the Passion on their seat ends.

"These are depictions of the symbols of Jesus' crucifixion and the unanswered question is why they were used in this part of Devon but not in the south or east of the county.

 "Braunton's carvings are rich and varied; like others in Devon there are religious themes as well as Renaissance images.

 "It is an interesting quirk of history that so many of these ancient bench ends survive in North Devon.

 "The reasons for it are, as yet, unknown to me but it is clear, from my visiting the churches, that many local people in North Devon are deeply attached to them as visible signs of their history."

Devon has just over 2,500 bench ends. And a quarter of its ancient churches have at least one bench end and some, like Hartland and Braunton, have many dozens. The majority of Devon's ancient benches that survive appear to have been built in the 1400s and 1500s.

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