Inspire me

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European churches in the UK

This is the year of European Cultural Heritage, allowing people to get closer to and more involved with their cultural heritage, including the heritage of places of worship. Many European communities have built or use churches in and around London. Here are twelve, representing the original member states of the EU in 1993, 25 years ago, and the members of the EEC, created 45 years ago.

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Hadrian's Wall

For around three centuries, Hadrian’s Wall was a vibrant, multi cultural frontier sprawling 73 miles coast to coast. It was built by 15,000 men in under six years and milecastles, barracks, ramparts and forts punctuate a dramatic and diverse landscape. The best evidence for Christian practice dates to the 4th and 5th centuries, with a few church locations and objects found. Later, Christianity flourished under the kings of Northumbria. The Tyne Valley is known for its fine concentration of early churches, many built with stones recycled from the wall, arguably the best surviving concentration north of the Alps!

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Heavenly church cafes

What better excuse for a slice of cake than being able to enjoy some of Britain's most beautiful and historic buildings at the same time? The churches featured here are just a selection of some our favourite church cafes: we can assure you that there are many more excellent options for you to visit and many more excuses for cake, if you need one!

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Twelve church days of Christmas

Churches in Britain comprise the greatest collection of historic buildings and works of art that our country possesses. From the grandest cathedral to the tiniest parish church, they are filled with innumerable treasures, illuminating every facet of our nation's history. We wanted to see if there was anything that couldn't be found inside one of our churches, so we have set ourselves a Christmas challenge: to see if we can find everything mentioned in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. All together now! On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

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Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was one of the most prolific writers of the 19th century and his works are considered classics of English literature. Born in Portsmouth in 1812, Dickens was one of six children. His father worked for the Navy but was summoned back to London in 1822. The family fell into debt, and his parents and siblings moved to Marshalsea debtors prison. Dickens stayed with a friend and worked to reduce the debt. These experiences inspired many of his novels and his wizened and impoverished characters. Churches often appear in his life and works. Dickens was particularly taken with Unitarianism and attended a chapel on Little Portland Street for many years, including the time he wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’. Unfortunately nothing remains of the chapel now, but here are some of his churches.

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Lincolnshire remembers

The new International Bomber Command Memorial stands on Canwick Hill to the south of Lincoln. Anticipating the opening of its visitors centre next year and to coincide with the season of Remembrance, this list of churches are just some of those which have connections with the RAF heritage of Lincolnshire and air crew from many countries who are commemorated by memorials and war graves. Lincolnshire is known as Bomber County due to the many RAF Stations, allied air forces and their crews stationed here.

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Church architecture awards 2017

Each year the National Churches Trust and the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association are inviting entries for two top church architecture awards. The King of Prussia Gold Medal is awarded for innovative, high quality church conservation or repair work projects. The Gold Medal was the gift of King Freidrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia in 1857. The Presidents Award is for the best new church architecture, new buildings and re-ordering, alterations or extensions, on behalf of the presidents of NCT and EASA. Here are this year’s winners and highly commended churches… they are all worth a visit to see some of the best church architecture today.

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Memento mori

An ossuary is a chambers for storing human bones. They range from a box to whole buildings, and often came about when burial space was scarce. However, throughout ancient and medieval times displaying and maintaining the bones of the deceased was also a way to honour the dead and visiting them is a fascinating reminder of mortality, one of the only certainties in life. There are only two remaining ossuaries in the UK, but more common are the Memento Mori found in and around churches across the country.

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Beer festivals

The church has a rich and tasty relationship with beer. The beers brewed by religious orders were often richer and higher in alcohol than those drunk everyday, perhaps to sustain the monks during fasts. In Britain medieval church houses hosted ‘church ales’ to raise funds. They were banned by Oliver Cromwell and many became ordinary alehouses. To this day ancient churches are often near an old pub. Today’s beer festivals, bringing together local craft ales in unique surroundings, can be seen as a step back in time to the medieval church ales. Welcome to the land of hops and glory!

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Cumbria has a history of invasion and settlement; the Romans, Anglo Saxons, Vikings, Normans and Border Rievers have each left their story in our church buildings. Characteristically small and simple, yet not without beauty and grace, they reflect the socio economics of a rural landscape formed of lakes, mountains, coastline and border frontiers. The Anglo Scottish war (c1296-c1513) curtailed the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, yet retained Norman influences. 18th century prosperity, Victorian growth and romanticism contributed to the county known as the land of lakes and fells, Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.

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Heritage Open Days 2017

With over 1,000 events involving churches joining Heritage Open Days, there are hundreds of exciting activities happening this September. Equally, we think it is important to share heritage with everyone, and are proud of the number of family friendly events on offer over the weekend. To highlight these events, and encourage all the family to discover the heritage of their local parish, we have put together a list of our favourites.

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Ride+Stride 2017

Visit unique historic buildings, see beautiful countryside, get some exercise and have fun with the family! Ride+Stride is a sponsored bike ride or walk in which people all over England walk or cycle between churches, exploring and enjoying the countryside from Cornwall to Northumberland. The money they raise helps to save historic churches, chapels and meeting houses for future generations by helping to fund urgent repairs and the installation of modern facilities. Below are the areas where a Ride+Stride event is taking place in 2017.

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Spires and Squires: the county was christened this centuries ago and it still holds true; magnificent churches whose spires populate the skyline and equally great country houses. Both stretch back to early medieval times and the ten best churches selected reflect this stretching from Saxon times through to the 20th century. Easy to access and full of treasures, not only architectural, the county offers a wealth of interesting things to the travelling tourist.

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Doctor Who

The Doctor, a time travelling alien from the planet Gallifrey. He’s travelled from one end of time to the other and visited countless alien worlds along the way, none more so than our own fair planet Earth. Church buildings have played an important role in the Doctor's adventures, from the very early beginnings right through to the present day, being used for contemporary story settings, backdrops for exciting action scenes and doubling up as other fictional locations. Here we take a time travelling romp through all 13 Doctors, with one church used in a story for each… there are many more!

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Thomas Cranmer & the Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer was created in 1549 by Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556). Deeply rooted in the Bible, it was the handbook of the new English Church which had just split from Rome. Revisions were made in 1552, 1559, 1604 and 1662 and the 1662 book used today remains significantly as Cranmer wrote it.

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Cornwall’s churches are rarely simple buildings nestling into the landcape. Instead they are assertive structures with heaven thrusting spires or towers, commonly three times the height of the church. This gives Cornish churches a squat appearance externally, though often they are found to be tall inside. By the 1500s granite was the material of choice and many were enlarged, but often left with much earlier fabric. Quaint villages are rare here, generally churches are found in towns, hamlets or trading ports. Methodist and nonconformist chapels partly filled the gaps left after the Reformation. Here is a sample of special churches.

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Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor (probably 1661 – 25 March 1736) was an English architect and a leading figure of the English Baroque style. Hawksmoor was responsible for six new churches in London, each different, each unique. They are his best known independent works of architecture. It has been argued that there are hidden symbols amongst the obelisks, pyramids and imitation altars on his churches. His churches are unusual, and well worth visiting!

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Greater Manchester

It comes as little surprise that the oldest buildings in Greater Manchester are all churches; St Mary the Virgin in Eccles has parts built in the 13th century, the tower of St Chad, Rochdale, dates to the 1200s; and, St Leonard in Middleton has fragments of a Norman billet frieze. But Greater Manchester also has an amazing collection of Victorian and modern churches to explore. Here are a few to show off what the region has to offer.

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King Arthur

The core myths of the Celtic peoples centre on the great cycle of stories based on the life and exploits of King Arthur. They link Arthur to a poetic idea of Britain as a kind of paradise. The historic figure of Arthur as a victorious 5th century warrior, leading Britons into battle against Saxon invaders, has so far proved impossible to confirm. So where does the legend come from? Why has Arthur remained so important to us, and why are there so many places associated with him?

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Tour de Yorkshire 2017

In July 2014, three million people thronged the roadsides of Yorkshire to welcome Le Tour de France to God’s Own County. The sun shone, bands played and church bells rang. Yorkshire was globally endorsed as the new home of world cycling and its churches took centre stage as landmarks in the TV commentary. The story continues with the annual Tour de Yorkshire and the upcoming 2019 UCI Cycling World Championships. Here, Rod Ismay, author of Bells & Bikes, picks 16 churches from the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire for you to visit and enjoy; all looking great from the saddle. Plenty of other churches on the route are listed on ExploreChurches, why not explore the map.

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Ancient yew trees

Many reasons have been given as to why yews are to be found in old churchyards. One is that it is ‘as an emblem of Resurrection’. This may be the reason why it was customary during Tudor times and earlier to tie sprigs of yew to coffins. Churches are the present custodians of trees planted and cared for over many centuries, from 500 year old trees planted in the Middle Ages, the 800 year old trees planted by the Normans, even older specimens planted by Saxons and early Welsh saints, with the possibility that some might even pre date Christianity.

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Bill Bryson

Everybody loves Bill Bryson. His best selling travel books extol the glories of our country, and here he chooses 14 of his favourite churches, including Durham Cathedral, The Italian Chapel in Orkney and London’s St Martin’s in the Fields. In his own inimitable words ‘It is impossible to overstate the importance of churches to this country. Nothing else in the built environment has the emotional and spiritual resonance, the architectural distinction, the ancient, reassuring solidity of a parish church. To me, they are the physical embodiment of all that is best and most enduring in Britain.’

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Snowdrops are one of the first signs of life in gardens after the long winter months, flowering between January and March. Head out on a crisp day to explore frosty landscapes and enjoy beautiful displays of snowdrops, a sure sign that spring is on its way. Lots of churchyards have snowdrops, but some churches also welcome intrepid snowdrop seekers with open days, tours, hot cups of steaming tea and coffee and yummy cake.

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Love churches

Valentine’s Day is renowned for being the most romantic day of the year. But St Valentine is not the only link between love and lovely churches. There are other saints of love, such as St Raphael and St Dwynwen. Churches are host to weddings, and all the traditions and rites associated with them. And then there are the romantic poets, who dreamily wrote about churches, and are buried beneath their floors and grassy churchyards.

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Tidal island churches

When is an island not an island? When, for a few hours each day, the low tide reveals a strip of land joining it to the mainland. The UK has just over 40 tidal islands, some large some very small. The best feature unique churches and chapels, often with monastic beginnings and built in these places for peace and tranquillity. They are often beautiful and fascinating places to visit. But, always check the tide times in advance - or be ready to swim back...

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Medieval bridge chapels

Bridge chapels were once a common feature of major bridges throughout Britain. Mostly built during the 14th or 15th centuries, they were often chantry chapels where prayers were said for the souls of the founders and benefactors of the bridge and also provided a place for travellers and pilgrims to attend mass and pray for a safe journey. Today only a few survive: three chapels on bridges in Rotherham, Wakefield and St Ives; one small building believed to have been a chapel or shrine in Bradford on Avon; and two at the ends of bridges in Derby and Rochester.

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Historic labyrinths

The labyrinth motif has been used since prehistoric times. The earliest examples are rock carvings, but they appear in Roman mosaics, the floors of cathedrals in Europe, on village greens and hilltops, in remote Scandinavia, through India, the American Southwest and beyond. Historic labyrinths in the UK mostly date from the late 19th century, when renewed interest in labyrinths combined with a wave of church building and restoration. Only two are medieval: a gilded roof boss in St Mary, Redcliffe and a labyrinth on Hereford Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi. Labyrinths are popular again, so look out for modern examples too.

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Twelve days of Christmas

Christmas and visiting churches go hand in hand. From carol services, through school nativity plays, Christingles and Christmas tree festivals and onto midnight mass and Christmas day morning services; it’s impossible to think about Christmas without visiting a church. The Twelve Days of Christmas was first published as a rhyme in 1780, with the tune coming from an arrangement of a traditional folk song in 1909. The twelve days start with Christmas Day.

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Wooden churches

Many, if not most, ancient churches in the UK started off as simple wooden structures. Through time, and increased wealth of the church and communities most were replaced with stone buildings, which in turn were altered added to. Wooden churches are, therefore, rare in the UK and offer unique insights into our heritage, whether they have survived for centuries or are relatively new.

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Capability Brown

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was probably England’s greatest landscape designer. He changed the face of 18th century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, a magical world of green. He even had a hand in a few churches. Bill Bryson wrote: ‘Brown created landscapes that were in a sense ‘more English’ than the countryside they replaced.’

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Battlefield Crosses

During the First World War efforts were made to mark graves, either where men fell or in cemeteries along and behind the line. Markers varied from a stick or broken rifle to army regulation markers and even carved and ornate memorials. When makers were replaced with headstones these wooden crosses were offered to families of the dead. The family were responsible for shipping them home, and for their final location. Many were given to churches.

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Devon Churches

In all corners of Devon, not only will you find quaint villages and exquisite cream teas, you’ll also find tremendous examples of history. With ancient abbeys and historic churches to explore, enjoy a great day out discovering local heritage and humble beginnings in Devon. Be warmly welcomed and discover local heritage and craftsmanship in churches, chapels and meeting houses of all ages and architectural styles. Here are just a few to wet your whistle.

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Favourited ChurchMicro Geocaches

Geocaching is a real world, outdoor treasure hunting game. Using a smartphone app, or a GPS, use clues and coordinates to navigate to and find the hidden geocache (container). Once found, sign the log and swap treasure. It’s a great activity, alone, in groups or with family. ChurchMicros are a series of geocaches at or near churches. Here are the 10 most favourited (by percentage) ChurchMicros. There are over 10,000 to find, with links to those listed here on each church page.

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Churches on film

Churches offer some of the most magnificent architectural locations in the UK. From spectacular backdrops in Hollywood movies to everyday life events in favourite soap operas, from the grandest cathedral to the humblest parish church; they are indispensable on screen as they are in reality. Sometimes they are churches, sometimes they are something else altogether. The fun is in spotting them, and then visiting the real life locations of our favourite on screen moments.

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Churches on TV

Churches are part of our everyday landscape, imagine a view over a countryside valley without intriguing towers and spires popping up to entice you. They are also the places we go to celebrate key life events; birth, marriage, death. As such, they must also be part of the landscape of our worlds on TV. As with film, sometimes they are churches, sometimes they are something else altogether. The fun is in spotting them, and then visiting the real life locations of our favourite on screen moments.

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