Meet our Friends - Sue Graham
During lockdown, Sue Graham has enjoyed our daily Facebook postings. As a result she decided to become a Friend of the National Churches Trust so that she could support our work. We catch up with her and hear her thoughts on why church buildings are so important.
fascinated by Gothic places in particular
I have always had a love of history, particularly the Medieval and Tudor ages. As long ago as the 1960s, my parents used to pile us all into the family Austin A40 Devon and take us somewhere of interest every Sunday afternoon. Living just outside Oxford, there were so many places to visit in the Cotswolds, Oxford itself and the surrounding areas. Later, during my teens, I was attracted to the architecture of churches and other ecclesiastical buildings. I was fascinated by gothic places in particular - the “height and light” of the churches, the wonderful arches and towers. On family holidays to Yorkshire we visited Fountains, Rievaulx and Whitby. I suppose that I fell in love with the romantic idea of these somewhat mysterious, places - probably a “Northanger Abbey” moment!
weekly church crawls
Moving on in time, my passion for churches really came into being around 15 or so years ago, when I stopped working full-time. My husband doesn't particularly share my interest but is happy visiting with me. Our neighbour, however, is a kindred spirit and we started“ church crawls” every week. There are some special places to see even just a few miles from home. Magnificent wall paintings at both Saint Mary's Chalgrove and St. Peter ad Vincula South Newington as well as the “Doom” at St. Laurence’s Combe Longa, which is less than 5 miles from my home.
central to their local communities
I joined the National Churches Trust very recently having enjoyed your Facebook posts, especially during “lockdown”. ( I love Churchspotter Tuesday.) Church crawls were definitely not considered essential travel! Churches are so very important - not only for religious purposes but also because they are so central to their local communities.
I used to think that they should be “preserved”, almost museum like. I have now realised that, whilst conserving the structures themselves, together with the history and art , sculptures, stained glass , etc is so important, the churches should be “living” and breathing. I love the way that the Trust supports all of these elements.
You asked about my favourite church. That is so difficult! I love Winchester Cathedral - 1000 years of history, wonderful architecture (back to my love of Tudors - Mary was married to Philip of Spain there) . It also embraces present times for example Antony Gormley’s Sound II in the Crypt. I was lucky enough to visit when the crypt was flooded and the sculpture looked stunning with the reflection in the water.
I also love a tiny church, especially St Edwold’s, Stockwood, the smallest found in Dorset. It stands at the end of a farm road, right next to a Manor farmhouse. It's very simple but has the most wonderful acoustics. As soon as we stepped inside, I said to my husband “I need to sing here” - so I did! There were just the two of us there, on a wet October day between lockdowns and there was such a feeling of peace and tranquillity.
Finally, maybe a slightly unusual choice - the church that is part of Blackfriars, Oxford. Built in the 1920s, it is very simple, full of light and has a most wonderful stillness about it. Entering from the noise and traffic of St Giles in Oxford is a very positive experience. Whenever I am in Oxford (not during recent times of course), I call in, perhaps for only 5 or 10 minutes, just to sit, think, and enjoy the brief respite from a busy world.
You too can help us safeguard the future of more churches and chapels by also becoming a Friend of the National Churches Trust.