Hidden staircase found in the church
On 28th February a startling discovery was made at the Parish church of St. Peter, Knowstone, North Devon, a grade 2* listed building dating back to the 14th century.
Some urgent work was required to remove old and badly cracked plasterwork on the church inside walls close to the altar and when one large area of plaster was removed an area covered in wooden boards was revealed, and behind those boards there was a staircase!
This staircase was an original part of the church and provided access to the Roodloft a structure that sat on the Roodscreen which traversed the Chancel.
The Rood was the Crucifix and was positioned on the Roodloft - the holiest place in the church.On special occasions the priest would preach from there giving his sermon extra impact.
During the Reformation King Henry VIII ordered that all Roman Catholic icons should be removed from churches and destroyed (many were retrieved and hidden). More severe measures were taken on behalf of the young Edward VI during his short reign (1547-1553) when more damage was done. Roman Catholicism was restored during the time of Mary (1553-1558) when the surviving Lofts and Roodscreens were back in favour. However, the accession of Elizabeth 1 in 1558 resulted in the 'Elizabethan Injunctions' requiring that any remnants of the previous religion should be torn out and burnt.
It's quite a thought that those stairs have been hidden out of sight for nigh on five hundred years, but there is a surviving panel of the old Roodscreen which is now the fascia of the pulpit.
The Parochial Church Council's aim is to preserve the steps as a feature, accompanied by an explanatory panel and backlighting. The Diocese is equally enthusiastic and we are consulting with a structural engineer, church architect, archaeologist and conservator to come up with a plan.
In the meantime the church is closed in view of the building works and scaffolding, but open for our regular Sunday services (first Sunday of the month - Holy Communion; 2nd Sunday Family Service with refreshments afterwards) in the Lady Chapel.
We'll keep you updated as work progresses. But, of course, you could always attend our services and see it all for yourselves!