Inspired by the heritage boards and the guidebook by Michael Carter, I then went to St Peter’s Church, Stanway to see the sculptural and architectural elements taken from the abbey and incorporated into the northern churchyard wall. It was a Sunday morning and a service was taking place, so I ventured only into the churchyard.
I’m not sure precisely when in the 16th-17th centuries this churchyard wall was adorned in this fashion, but it is a striking site. It is a powerful reminder of the post-Dissolution plundering, and thus creation of, a ruin from what had been a great abbey. Yet it might also show the growing power of spolia for articulating the taste and identities of secular patrons who inherited monastic landscape. After all, rather than in a hidden location, this south-face north wall of the churchyard not only renders the spolia prominent for anyone attending funerals or other commemorative activities in the churchyard, but it was also overlooked by the superb Jacobean Stanway House, located to the east of the church and with its frontage facing directly over the northern half of the churchyard. Indeed, the family had a private gate from the house into the churchyard, meaning that the Tracy family who constructed the house would presumably have walked past the spolia en route to and from Sunday worship.
In particular, the centrepiece of the spolia is a horizontally aligned sarcophagus. This is deliberately framed by traces of two arches redeployed, and surrounded by a rich and varied selection of spolia.
Hence, indirectly, the mortuary role of the abbey is enshrined and displayed within the boundary of holy ground at a nearby parish church for all to see. Perhaps also it was felt such a feature was apposite, prestigious, and perhaps even magically efficacious in protecting the church and its yard, even after its occupant had been removed.
There are other fragments of funerary monuments – a floriated cross and an expanded-arm cross.
As such, Stanway might indicate the active socio-political and religious power of the past through the display of monastic spolia in the sacred context of the post-medieval parish churchyard.