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A stoup is a stone basin used to hold holy water. Usually it was located just inside the church or on the right hand side of the porch near to the church entrance. Sometimes the stoup was supported on a shaft. On entering and leaving church the devout worshipper would dip the fingers of the right hand into the water and make the sign of the cross to indicate self-consecration and a renewal of baptismal vows. "When thou comste to the holy place, Caste holy water in thy face." Not many stoups survived the Reformation. Good examples exist in Cornwall (St Endellion) and in Herts (Caldecote). There are a few examples in Gloucestershire, at Whitminster, Boxwell, and Leighterton.

PISCINA (or lavacrum)

A piscina is a niche containing a shallow stone bowl or drain which was built into the wall of the chancel near the High Altar. They can be found in different parts of the church, but always indicate the position of the altar before changes occurred, eg from rebuilding. The design of piscinae exhibit their period of construction. In the Norman period pillar piscinae were popular, the basin being supported on a shaft. Piscinae were used by the priests for washing the chalice and patens. The water drained into the consecrated ground around the church. Towards the end of the 13th century it became the rule for the priest not to wash his hands in the same drain as the chalice, and so double drainers were built. Not common, but a pair of piscinae can be seen at Brimpsfield and Hawkesbury. Sometimes a credence shelf may be seen, used to hold the cruets which contain the wine.

Leigh - 14C piscina with credence shelf and crocketed canopy

Leigh - 14C piscina with credence shelf and crocketed canopy


This was a small cupboard or recess built into the south or east wall of a church, usually near the altar. Able to be locked they were used to hold the holy vessels, books or other sacred objects. On many can be seen rebates, for the doors, as well as grooves, for the shelves. Bibury church has nine aumbries, three of which are behind the altar.


These were seats recessed into the south wall of the chancel. Usually there were three seats but sometimes two (Beverstone Castle) and occasionally four were built. Sedilia were used by the priest and his two assistants (deacon and sub-deacon) during the singing of the Gloria and Creed. Some, as at Tortworth, were stepped and decorated. The highest ranked seat was placed nearest the altar. Often a piscina was constructed to the east of the sedilia, at the same time and of the same design, so a harmonious unit was presented (Blockley). Sedilia occurred at every period but were grandest during the 14th century. Examples are at Tormarton, Marshfield, Slimbridge and Northleach.


Often when churches were enlarged the view from the new transepts to the High Altar was blocked. Frequently a diagonal opening was made through the stone of the chancel arch to gain a view of the High Altar. This enabled chantry priests to synchronise their mass with that at the High Altar. Sometimes a similar opening was made for the ringer to know when to sound the sanctus bell. A few squints, as at North Cerney and Brimpsfield, were high enough for a man to walk through (passage squints). Other locations with squints in Gloucestershire include Stanton, Beverstone and Icomb.


An Easter Sepulchre was a recess built on the north side of the chancel to accommodate the Host and Altar Crucifix during the period of fast and vigil from Good Friday to Easter morning. They are rare but a few from the 14th century have a rich canopy. Sometimes the lower panels were carved with sleeping Roman soldiers and the upper panels with scenes depicting the Resurrection. It is accepted that most churches used a temporary structure, perhaps a richly draped cupboard or the top of an altar tomb north of the altar.

On Maundy Thursday the consecrated Host was entombed within the Easter Sepulchre. Then a watch was kept by day and night. On Easter Sunday three priests processed to the Sepulchre and acted out the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene finding the empty tomb. After they had recited, in Latin, the conversation with the angel the Host was resurrected from the Sepulchre and High Mass celebrated. This was carried a step further by miracle plays when the role of characters was often taken by laymen.

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The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of St Mary and St Nicolas Prestbury Cheltenham - Registered Charity No 1130933

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Last modified: 06 June 2015