14th century secret revealed at church
THE spring equinox in March will bring to light an extraordinary secret that had been hidden for many centuries at Barsham Church.On the evenings of March 19, 20 and 21, for just four minutes each time and only if there is no cloud, a beam of sunlight will filter down from a small window and bathe a sculpture of Christ on the Cross in a golden light.
THE spring equinox in March will bring to light an extraordinary secret that had been hidden for many centuries at Barsham Church.
On the evenings of March 19, 20 and 21, for just four minutes each time and only if there is no cloud, a beam of sunlight will filter down from a small window and bathe a sculpture of Christ on the Cross in a golden light.
It is a beautiful spectacle that may date back as far as the 1300s, when the window was built, but has only very recently been rediscovered because the sculpture, or rood, was taken down for hundreds of years.
It was the Rev John Buchanan of the church who rediscovered it by chance in the early 1990s, and he has only recently been able to make sense of it after recording its occurrence over a number of years.
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He has managed to catch it only a handful of times, and for this reason it is very difficult to predict exactly when it will take place. However this year it is roughly predicted that the entire rood will be directly lit at about 5.20pm on March 20.
On March 19 and 21, at about the same time, the figure will be partially lit, and it is repeated at the autumn equinox.
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“To actually see it was a matter of luck,” explained Mr Buchanan. “You have to go in there at the right time and there's got to be no cloud. That's why it's taken myself and others such a long time to find it.
“I'm a curious sort of guy and my immediate thought was that it wasn't by chance - I thought, 'what sort of event does it mark?'
“So I went through the church calendar, and it got terribly complicated because in the 1600s they shifted it from Julian to Gregorian. But I realised that the one thing that would stay the same is the equinox.”
There is nothing in the record books about the phenomenon, although Mr Buchanan believes that it has been set up purposefully, as the window is conspicuously off-centre to direct the light in a certain way.
He has his theories about why it might have been designed that way.
“I've often wondered whether a cunning priest was trying to do a bit of magic,” he said.
“But I think it was for an agricultural purpose, to mark the time between winter and summer.
“I think it was a fixed point in time to say when the cattle can go back on the marshes.”
The rood was removed in accordance with Henry VIII's wishes in the 16th century, and even after it was remade in 1870 there was only a period of five years before the window was covered by a large painting, again hiding the church's secret.
In 1979, when a fire at the church destroyed the entire nave roof, the painting was removed, but it was not until the early nineties that anyone caught a glimpse of it again.
The church is offering visitors a cup of tea on March 19, 20 or 21 if they want to come and experience the marvel.
However, Mr Buchanan warns that it is the sort of awe-inspiring event that is worth your full attention.
“It's only four minutes, so it's one of these events where you either drink it in or you pay no attention to what's going on and take your picture,” he said.
“It is a magical moment.”