St Cyriac and the tour party

St Cyriac, Lacock, church, Wiltshire.Had I led a better life, perhaps spending more time with saints than sinners, maybe I would have heard of St Cyriac before stumbling ignorantly into his church in Lacock.  For the benefit of anyone else who has somehow managed to cope thus far without this knowledge – and I’m sure there’s at least one of you – St Cyriac was (allegedly) a 3-year old boy who lived in the 4th century.  His mother, Julitta, was horribly tortured and executed for her Christian faith in Tarsus, in the Roman province of Silicia (modern Turkey).  Making the best of various accounts I have seen, little Cyriac was sitting on the governor’s knee and scratched the old chap’s face, whereupon the foul man leapt up and flung the infant to the marble floor with such force that it killed the poor child outright.  Other versions have the child boxing the Governor’s ears and being thrown downstairs.  The name Cyriac is sometimes rendered as Cyr, Cyriacus, or Quiricus.

St Cyriac, Lackock, boy saint, visit WiltshireThere is at least one other St Cyriac, or Cyriacus, a Roman who was beheaded on the orders of the Emperor Maximian in the early 4th century and who had a reputation for being rather good at performing exorcisms – not a skill one comes across that often, so he was evidently a man worth knowing.  Stories of saints can easily get terribly mixed up, though – but it is definitely the young lad who is venerated at Lacock.  You don’t actually get too many Cyriacs in Britain.  Lacock seems to be the only church dedicated to St Cyriac on his own, but I have managed to identify five other churches (so far) dedicated to him and his mother: St Cyriac and St Julitta in Newton St Cyres, Devon and Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire; St Quiricus and St Julietta in Tickenham, Somerset; and St Ciricius and St Julitta in Luxulyan and St Veep, both in Cornwall.

Assuming they actually existed, Cyriac and Julitta’s ends are, of course, ghastly and undeserved.  But an old agnostic like me finds his credulity being stretched a tad by a religion that turns a 3-year old child into a saint.  We can, however, be encouraged that the Holy Church apparently never officially recognised the cult figure of St Guinefort, a 13th century French greyhound who was killed in tragic circumstances.  Who said the Reformation was a wholly Bad Thing..?

St_Cyriac's, Lacock, naveSt Cyriac, interior, parish church, LacockI’m digressing again.  Here is the handsome church of St Cyriac which has served the comfortable community of Lacock since I’m not sure when – and still does.  Probably built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon predecessor, the church has a Norman foundation but is largely 14th and 15th century, with a 17th century spire and restoration work dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.  In short, and not untypically for an English parish church, it has a little bit of everything.  Its large size and relative grandeur are due to the relative wealth of the parish, at one time reliant on a profitable wool trade.  In 2013, the church sold its ‘Lacock Cup’, a superb silver drinking goblet dated to around 1429, to the British Museum for £1.3 million; the cash must help with the high costs of maintaining a building like St Cyriac’s.

St Cyriac, Lacock, William Sharington, memorialLady Chapel, St Cyriac, LacockThe church struck me as having a rather higgledy-piggledy appearance, but with some wonderful features, not least its 15th century Lady Chapel and the memorial to Sir William Sharington, who purchased the adjacent Lacock Abbey in 1540 and who only just avoided losing his head for his dodgy dealings.  Both his memorial and the Lady Chapel retain traces of what looked to this layman like original paintwork; can you imagine how these things must have looked when they were freshly done?  Other memorials to local dignitaries and landowners, like the Talbots, adorn the walls.  One that particularly caught my eye declared that, “Near this, enclosed in oak of an English ship of war, is all that remains in this world of the lamented Rear Admiral Charles Fielding”. Fielding (1780-1837) was descended from the Habsburgs – one of Europe’s great dynasties, famed for its extremely close family bonds, fine jaws and, for 300 years, Holy Roman Emperors.  He was the second husband of Lady Elizabeth Theresa Fox-Strangways, mother of the photography pioneer, William Henry Fox Talbot; Fox Talbot is buried in the churchyard.  There is also a memorial to Charles Edwin Awdry, a cricketer of some repute and I believe first cousin to the Reverend W Awdry, author of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’.

The church is well-known for its gargoyles – photos of which are conspicuous by their absence from this article – this is my excuse, if one is needed, to return sometime and spend another night at Lacock’s Red Lion.  However, I did snap a remarkable carving of a female face in the porch; I think she is simply beautiful – if a little stony-faced.

St Cyriac, Lacock, medieval carvingOur visit to the church of St Cyriac was disturbed by the arrival of about 500 people on some sort of guided tour.  The tour leader, who I judged to be of fascist persuasion, suddenly launched in, without any apparent respect for either the building or fellow-visitors, to regale his troops, loudly, with quite the strangest version of the history of the English Reformation I have ever heard.  Where do they find these idiots?  It irritates me that his captive audience had presumably paid good money to be told a load of codswallop by this blathering, pompous, ass.  Mind you, they were an incredibly rude lot themselves, so maybe they deserved it.  Battered by bags, pushed into pews and threatened with a 5-foot long camera lens – presumably, psychological compensation for some kind of inadequacy on the part of its owner – I allowed myself to be dragged away, muttering darkly, by the very sensible Mrs Britain.  Outside, I waited behind a convenient gravestone until the Il Duce character emerged.  Throwing a sack over his silly head, I kidnapped him and left him on a remote rocky outcrop in the middle of the storm-lashed Atlantic, where he couldn’t do British history, or tourism, any further harm.

Wiltshire churches, St Cyriac, Lacock

49 thoughts on “St Cyriac and the tour party

  1. Anca

    What an interesting post about the church. I’ve enjoyed the post a lot.

    As a heritage guide, I can’t say I’m not a bit envious for people that can scream all the tour. But, with only 4-6 people in my tours, I wouldn’t have to talk loud anyway. Also, hearing some inaccuracies must have been so annoying.

  2. marmeladegypsy

    Cyriac sounds like one of those medications you give to kids when they are throwing up. Of course, the things parents are naming their kids these days don’t have much going for them either apart from some weird originality. But I digress. An interesting church, to be sure.

    The church is lovely. I do like the chapel and I always find the history intriguing to be sure. And, as always, I learned something new here today!

  3. CherryPie

    This church looks delightful, it has passed me by on all my visits to Lacock.

    HaHaHa with regards to your sack over the head comment 🙂 The tour guide and rude visitors remind me of a visit to the Cathedral in Ravello. In the cathedral is a small chapel dedicated to St Pantaleone at the back of which is a small passageway that leads to the Holy Relic of St Pantaleone; a vial of his blood that becomes translucent every 27th July, the day of his martyrdom.

    Now whether or not we believe this some respect should be shown… I was quite dismayed that a tour guide was talking loudly to her group just outside the chapel, a place that I felt should be a place for reflection rather than noise!

  4. franklparker

    Another entertaining read, Mike. Did you not get a chance to correct the inaccurate information that was being given out? Those poor tourists will spend the rest of their lives believing that rubbish and, worse still, passing it on to their F&F. Heaven forbid, they might even write it up in a blog about the wonderful places they visited!
    I love that roof – worthy of something much grander.

  5. artandarchitecturemainly

    The C15th Lacock Cup is beautiful, but not very religious in appearance. No wonder the Museum said was originally a drinking, feasting and merriment cup, and was only used as a chalice for communion when some generous donor gave it to the church.

  6. Lisa G.

    Ha! Well, you told me you’d try a little harder in the “rudeness” department, a la Bill Bryson, and you have! 😀 Although he always says that, no, he didn’t really do/say that, and apparently you have really dealt with that Il Duce fellow! Such a brave man you are! 😀 I hope MI5, or is it MI6 – can’t keep them straight – don’t come knocking on your door in the middle of the night.
    As for the young St. Cyriac, it is unusual for someone so young, but you know about the Holy Innocents? The Jewish children slaughtered by order of Herod when the Magi told him about Jesus’ birth. They are Catholic saints.

  7. Stuart Templeton

    Fantastic post, and although I’ve been to Lacock this slipped me by, which is rather annoying, as the place looks fantastic – stunning building! I’ve never heard of the Saint either.

    I HATE (!!!!!!!!!) those type of tour groups, and have often dreamed of braining the tour guide with my camera (I love those big heavy metal SLRs!) – so well done you on metering out a very deserving punishment. Asides from being rude to other visitors – he obviously forgot it is also a place a worship – what an ass.

  8. Pamela

    The touring mob sounds hideous, but the building looks lovely. The legend of this saint is interesting, but I am most fascinated by the cult figure of the greyhound. Really! Now I can get into that!

  9. Fun60

    Never heard of this saint. I wonder if the parishioners are aware of the history of their church. That sculpture is beautiful.

  10. Clare Pooley

    This is a new saint on me too. I have encountered tour groups on my travels that have behaved as yours did; I think they forget that the places they visit have a life apart from being on a tour route and I also think that the rushed itineraries of these tours make for such behaviour as you witnessed. The tour guide was definitely at fault; I am pleased you were able to deal with him so effectively!
    An interesting church and as you remark, somewhat ‘busy’. Churches seem to collect not just items of furniture and pieces of art and iconography but also supernumerary chapels and aisles over the years. What to do with them all!?
    Thank you for this interesting, amusing and well-illustrated post, Mike.

  11. hilarymb

    Oh good – you’re obviously the only one who knows the whereabouts of said ‘blathering, pompous, ass’ … I expect the wind has whipped the sack off his head now – and his mouth is full of freezing salt water. Ghastly sounding tour.

    The church looks to be really interesting – though I had heard of the Lacock Cup – and am glad they raised a fair some of money for the upkeep.

    Interesting how we revere these saints from overseas … but poor kid – whatever happened to him, or worse his mother! Thanks for the information – while the Red Lion sounded a good stop over – cheers Hilary

  12. Helen Devries

    I see that the Roman governor stood no nonsense from toddlers….these days he’d probably be lynched by members of mumsnet. I am sure he would have approved of your treatment of the guide.

    When you think of the daft stories the church did accept it seems distinctly unkind not to accept the sanctity of a greyhound. Probably the clerics responsible had cats.

    For the Hapsburg descent see a paper by the debunker in chief J.H. Round…

    https://fmg.ac/phocadownload/userupload/scanned-sources/tgb/Vol10-PDFs/S-3892%20Hapsburgs.pdf

    He also had a go at the supposed descent of Cromwell’s wife from the kings of Scotland.

    Another super post…many thanks.

  13. Aviationtrails

    That’s certainly one I’ve never come across – I must be a serious sinner! Britain’s churches are fascinating places with such great histories. It’s a shame they get spoilt by such intrusions, they are (or should be) places of quiet contemplations and reading; even tour guides / groups should be respectful in such situations. A real shame but an interesting write up none the less!

  14. Easymalc

    Like you Mike, I have probably spent more time with sinners than saints, but on the plus side it makes you a great purveyor of words which makes your travels around Britain all the more enjoyable to read.

  15. M.B. Henry

    I am very sorry this experience got cut short by so many rude people, but I had to laugh at your telling of it 🙂 British history and tourism thanks you, but I feel bad for that poor rock in the Atlantic! 🙂

  16. Alli Templeton

    Fascinating account of this church and it’s saint, Mike. Cyriac is indeed a name less used, and it’s completely new to me. And your timing is eerily perfect, as I’m just about to do a 10 mile walk taking in my local town of Buckingham and our own infant saint! And now I’ve learned of another youngster saint. Fascinating history, and another of Lacock’s places of interest that will have to be visited. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  17. fragglerocking

    The cup is quite beautiful in its simplicity, damn British Museum end up with everything! (Sorry- pet peeve) They could loan it back permanently. Lovely photo’s and no holes! I wish I lived nearer!

  18. Dorothy

    My husband and I are too old (although not agnostic) to travel in the approved manner when we visit England and are forced by sheer physical necessity to join a tour group if we are to see churches such as this one. Your comments will discourage us from doing so, however. Perhaps a more constructive thing to do might be to note the name of the tour company and, if possible, the name of the tour leader and tell your story to the tour company. It might help, it couldn’t hurt. In the meantime you can know we will not be visiting anywhere you are likely to be.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with tour groups, Dorothy – sometimes, a tour is the best option – as you say – so I really hope you don’t feel discouraged. Besides, no reader of A Bit About Britain would dream of being disrespectful of the places they visit, or their fellow-visitors; so you’re perfectly safe. You’re right – I should probably have gone to the trouble of finding out who the operator was etc – but writing it up wouldn’t have been half as much fun and they probably wouldn’t have let me kidnap Il Duce.

  19. John

    Wow, that’s so terrible that so many rude jerks came in! Some folks were poorly raised with no respect for others. I love the architecture of this church, and it’s name is most unusual too. ❤️

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