Tucked away beyond a travel agents and a wine bar in a Midlands town Northmen and Arabs and Celts are carved into ancient pillars. It sounds a little Hollywood, but it is in fact true. We are oblivious to much of the fascinating history that surrounds us. We take our ancestry and architecture for granted. Perhaps that is the legacy of an ancient and crowded island.
St Chad’s church is set back just off the south end of Stafford’s high street. It’s known as Greengate Street. The church was built c. 1150AD and is a wonderfully quiet and welcoming spiritual oasis away from the temptations of shopping and fast food.
Step inside and you’re instantly made welcome. there are books to buy and donations willingly accepted but I was put under no pressure to contribute – which meant I certainly did.
The church is often overlooked by those visiting the nearby St Mary’s (which is a newcomer in these parts having been founded around 1200AD). St Mary’s is set in a neat square surrounded by coffee shops and lunching students trying to outdo each other with alternative styles. But St Chad’s does not disappoint. It is true to say it underplays its history. There are fantastic stone carvings of green men, and a wonderful tongue-puller who reminds vicars and parishioners that those with the most to say are not always the wisest!
Many of the carvings are mysterious. Scholars cannot say whether they are Nordic or Arabic-influenced. A message in latin is carved high on the wall. It reveals the church was made by Orme, a Crusader we know little or nothing about. There have been many theories and we may never know the truth, but it is possible that Orme brought back skilled Saracen masons from the Crusades.
St Chad’s is a fascinating church. In early May they will explore another Staffordshire-based story – the tale of Gawain and the Greene Knight. It is worth remembering that just a few feet from the muzak of high street fashion stores and American coffee shops there is a building that has been part of the community for almost 900 years. I’m indebted to the St Chad’s website for reproducing the Green Man above. Please click here to visit St Chad’s website.