A recent visitor to St Mary’s Church – Mr Jonathan Moor – highlighted the story of one of our brass plaques. Jonathan is part of the Monumental Brass Society. Jonathan’s article, which featured in our Parish Magazine, is copied below the pictures. The brass is visible on the wall of the Chancel, to the right hand side of the communion rail.

Jonathan writes: I visited St Mary’s Church to make a rubbing of the brass commemorating Thomas Pethyn (or Talpathyn) rector here from 1430 until 1470. The rubbing took about half an hour to complete, the process for doing so being akin to rubbing a coin with a pencil, but with black wax being used instead of pencil. The trick is to rub only the brass and not the surrounding stone into which it is set. This is done by finding the edges of the component pieces beneath the paper. The engraved lines come out white. While the process does no harm provided the brass is secure in its slab, consent to take a rubbing should always be sought of the rector or vicar of the church concerned.

Such memorials were laid down in their thousands in parish churches and cathedrals, as well as in abbeys and priories, between the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth – the last of them being engraved shortly before the English Civil War. The form they took changed after the Reformation when the inscriptions ceased to be in Latin, no longer contained requests for prayers to be said for the repose of the soul of the departed, and the language used became, by and large, English. 

In all some 35,000 such memorials were commissioned, of which some 11,500 still remain – many having been destroyed at the Reformation because of their perceived Catholic connections, others lost at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, while more were torn up during the Civil War – when, for example, the cathedrals of Lincoln and York were despoiled of their brasses – the metal being melted down for munitions. 

As a county, Dorset is not especially rich in such memorials, so you are very fortunate to have kept this particular one – although it would originally have been laid on the floor. Thomas is depicted in his funerary shroud or winding sheet; although it is undated, the memorial dates from c.1470 having been engraved shortly after Thomas died. It is something of a cheapskate commission because Thomas’s effigy once formed part of another brass and the inscription contains on its reverse an earlier one commemorating John Davy and his wife Joan dated c.1450. This is what is known as a palimpsest, although there is no known rubbing of the reverse of Thomas’s inscription which may or may not be associated with the shrouded figure. All this goes to prove is that there is nothing new in recycling! Maybe the inscription came from somewhere else in the church, had worked loose, and when the time came for a brass to be laid down to Thomas it was appropriated and re-engraved on the reverse.

I have been rubbing brasses for some fifty five years, now have a very large collection indeed. Someone else who also rubbed brasses, both as a schoolboy and an undergraduate at Oxford University, will be well known to all of you – T.E.Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia” – who is buried at Moreton where there is another fine brass commemorating James Frampton esquire who died in 1523.

My thanks once again to your Vicar, Stephen, for kindly granting me permission to rub the brass and to Ann Manning for opening up the church.

Jonathan Moor

Monumental Brass Society

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