Christ Church with St Ewen, All Saints  & St George

free website hit counter code

History


Christ Church (properly the Holy Trinity) may well stand on the oldest religious site in the City of Bristol - the hill-top in the centre of the original walled town, where the four chief streets (Broad, Wine, High, Corn) meet. No documentary evidence survives to give a secure Anglo-Saxon date to any of the City churches, although the lower tower of the old church at Christ Church was said to have borne a date from the middle of the reign of Ethelred II, the Unready.  A fragment found at Saint Mary le-Port is only doubtfully pre-Conquest, Saint Peter was traditionally a manorial church of similar date, All Saints (first recorded in 1153) has a good Anglo-Saxon dedication, and the Guild of Kalendars at Christ Church claimed to have been founded in the 600s.   These must be the four oldest, and three of them, lacking Saint Peter but joined by Saint Ewen (a Bishop of Rouen whose dedication is surely post-Conquest), were bunched tightly around the cross-roads and were by 1295 related to the four quarters of the villa of Bristol.

The use of the "popular" dedication of Christ Church instead of the Holy Trinity is at least 600 years old, and is a mystery wherever it occurs: Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Christchurch Priory in Hampshire, Christchurch on its hill-top in Gwent, and others, are all properly dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and of course every church is dedicated to the Triune God, whatever saint's title it may bear.   At Bristol the anomaly had already struck the unknown writer of a curious rhymeless alliterative Middle English poem sometimes called Mum and the Sothsegger, composed white-hot about the events of 1399 and beginning with words that need to be little modernised as:

“And as I passed in my prayer where priests were at mass, In a blessed borough that is named Bristol, At a temple of the Trinity in the very midst of the town, That is called Christ Church among the common people ...”

By that time, to judge from the poor sketches that have survived, it was a building in Perpendicular Gothic style, on the present site but stretching a little further east, with three aisles and, very unusually, a tower and spire at the east end, their ground floor possibly forming the chancel. The aisles will have accommodated the various chapels which are recorded, with altars of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Margaret, Saint Katherine, Saint Clement (for the Guild of Bakers), Saint "Clere", Saint Michael, Saint Thomas, and the Holy Cross. There is quite a rich documentation of all the church vessels, vestments, books and ornaments, almost all dispersed at the Reformation,  but a fine oak chest of the 15th century still stands near the font, with a flying dragon in wrought iron on its flap: little else remains of the mediaeval building, save for fragments of worked stone now used as corbels in the vestry.


 

In the hurtling days of the Reformation, Archbishop Cranmer was here in 1534, and on the 2nd of July 1543, the Litany in English (not published until 1544) was first sung in procession from Christ Church to Saint Mary at Redcliff, a landmark in the history of the Anglican Church.  Under Edward VI down came the images, altars and tabernacles; under Mary they went up again, but Elizabeth l's reign finished them off.  Meanwhile John Ameryke had been Church Warden; he was doubtless related to that Richard Amerik of Long Ashton whom many believe to be the eponym of the continent of America.  In the register for 1540 occurs the burial of John Shakesperye.  From 1310 the church housed the "common bell" for summoning the watch, for fire alarms, and for royal proclamations - a proof of the civic status of Christ Church.


The 18th Century >