Nestled on the southern edge of Dartmoor, not far from Plymouth, is the village of Shaugh Prior. Being a largely rural parish it is possible, for a short time at least, to soak up the rural charm and peace of the place. It’s a very important and special place to me as generations of my paternal Grandmother’s family lived and farmed there from the 1750s to the early 20th century.
The old village contains some wonderful old buildings, but the best by far is the 15th century parish church, dedicated to St Edward, King and Martyr. As with many ancient churches there are numerous special items of interest, but to me two items stand out. The first is a relic of the pre-reformation era – an ancient altar stone with five incised crosses. Now located beneath the high altar, I contemplated the history if only that stone could speak! The second item of interest to me is the font. Although the font itself is quite plain it is surmounted by the most splendid oak font cover dating from the 15th century. Considering that generations of my family were baptised and married inside this church it is a special experience to contemplate their presence in that place from so long ago.
St Edward’s is surrounded by a beautiful country churchyard. This is truly one of my “special places” – a place where I can escape the hustle and bustle of the busy world and spend time with the ancestors. Far from being a morbid practice, visiting the churchyard is a fascinating and enriching experience and offers me the chance to connect with family members buried there long ago. It might sound an exaggeration, but I can claim to be related to most of the residents of God’s Acre at Shaugh! Being a rural churchyard there is much of historic interest to see – the earliest surviving headstones date to the mid-18th century and being beautifully carved are works of art in their own right.
As I wandered around the churchyard today, reading the names of my long deceased ancestors and pondering on their lives, I was carried away by the peace and serenity of the place. God’s work of creation was truly at hand – manifested in the beautiful primroses and snowdrops scattered about and this offered a moment, a glimpse perhaps, of ‘Heaven on earth’.
I sat for a moment near the resting place of my 4th Great Grandparents. In doing so I felt the soft breeze and heard birds singing all around. It was as if the whole moment were an unspoken prayer. The words of the poet and hymn writer, Dorothy Frances Gurney went through my mind as I sat in silence there, “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden: Than anywhere else on earth.”
Matching Gurney’s wonderful words are the stunning epitaphs recorded on many of the ancient headstones at Shaugh. I have a couple of favourites worth sharing. Their sentiment in putting all hope and trust in Christ places us equal with every generation of Christians before us. How true are the words of Psalm 90 “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night”.
The first epitaph, carved onto the headstone of my 8th Great Grandparents, dating from 1744 reads:
‘You that are living and pass by
Remember that you all must dye
Forsake your sins whilst tis to day
Relent Repent without delay
Implore Gods Grace trust in Christs merit
If Heavenly Joy you will in herit’
Another favourite reads:
‘Our children dear forbear to weep,
While in this grave we calmly sleep.
All earthly ties we’ve left behind,
In hope a glorious crown to find.
(Thank you to Graham Naylor, a former worshipper at St Chrysostom’s, now living in Plymouth, for this lovely blog post)