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Chests can still be found in many churches, and were often located at their western end. The earliest chests may have been hollowed out from a great log; the example at Awre could be over one thousand years old. The valuables of the church were kept inside the chests. Later chests were more secure, and had at least three locks with keys held by the two churchwardens and the incumbent. By the 14th century ironwork, sometimes with elaborate carvings, would bind the oak chest. On occasion the chest itself was beautifully carved. Good examples of carved chests are at Saltwood (Kent), Crediton (Devon), Winchcombe and Cirencester, the Garstang chest.


Before the Reformation ecclesiastical plate consisted of many components; chalice, paten and cruet (for wine and water); pyx, ciborium and monstrance (reservation, administration and exposition of the Sacred Host); censer (for incense); pax (tablet used for the kiss of peace at Mass) and the chrismatory (for holy oils) as well as altar and processional crosses and candlesticks. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I new communion cups and patten appeared, being larger with a changed design. There is an Elizabethan chalice at Winchcombe dated 1570. A few churches have some plate on display, guarded inside glass cases, but the vast majority is secured out of sight. Many relics are on display inside Gloucester Cathedral, and within the parish church at Cirencester can be seen the chalice cup attributed to Anne Boleyn. Sadly, very few of these treasures survived the difficult period of the Reformation.


Embroidery from the middle ages is still in evidence; a cope and altar frontals are at Chipping Campden, a cope at Buckland, altar frontals at Baunton and a 15th century cope at Cirencester. Winchcombe contains an altar cloth re-assembled during the time of Katharine of Aragon from 14th century priests' copes.


Before the Reformation most churches had an organ sited in the rood loft. Although there are none left in England, an old organ case can be found at Wootton-under-Edge. After the destruction of rood lofts many churches had an orchestra set up in the west gallery. This was replaced during the 19th century by a choir of men and boys.


A register of births, marriages and deaths was first ordered in 1538, during the reign of Henry VIII. In 1598 a new decree ordered this registration to be kept in a book, a practice which continues to this day.

The Mortuary Chest at Awre

A fine chest on feet, mid or late 13C, with handsome scrolled ironwork
Wootten Wawen, Warwickshire

The Garstang Chest at Cirencester

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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