Matlock Church is one of a large number of medieval foundations dedicated to the glory of God and in honour of St Giles, one of the fourteen, so-called ‘auxiliary’ saints, invoked especially by cripples, beggars and blacksmiths. In the Middle Ages his cult was popular among the rural poor.
St Giles in Derbyshire
As well as at Matlock, eight other churches in medieval Derbyshire were dedicated to him: Caldwell, Calke, Great Longstone, Hartington, Marston Montgomery, Normanton-by-Derby, Sandiacre and Scarcliffe. This last church has in modern times been incorrectly assigned to St Leonard. The church at Killamarsh was originally dedicated to St Mary, although an erroneous attribution to St Giles appears already in the Rawlins Manuscript in 1821.
The Life of St Giles
Not a great deal is known of the life of our patron saint. He is believed to have lived during the eighth century as a hermit in the forest near the mouth of the River Rhone in southern France. He had there, as his only companion, according to the legend, a pet hind, which he had rescued from the pursuit of huntsmen led by Flavius Wamba, king of the Visigoths. The king, much impressed by the holy man, established for him a monastery of which Giles became the abbot. (A local hermit’s cave, containing a crucifix carved out of the living rock and a niche for a lamp may still be seen at Robin Hood’s Stride, an outcrop of rocks in the nearby parish of Elton. A similar hermitage on High Tor at Matlock was recorded in the mid-eighteenth century but no traces of this survive.) The church celebrates St Giles’ Day on 1st September.
St Giles Carving
The statue of our patron saint on the west wall of the nave and the adjacent glass panel, lettered in English and Latin with a request for his prayers, were introduced in 2009. The figure of the saint with his deer and the arrow of the legend were designed, carved in oak and enlivened with restrained colour by Charles Gurrey, a gifted sculptor who has worked at York Minster and on the carvings of the west front of Guildford Cathedral.
Mr Gurrey also designed the bilingual inscription. On the face of the glass panel, Holy Giles, pray for us, echoes the devout formula of the faithful, reiterated through the many centuries since the first foundation here of a parish church. On the reverse of the panel (but intended to be read through the glass from the front), Sancte Aegidie, ora pro nobis, gives the Latin equivalent of the invocation. Ann Sotheran, the stained glass artist, has realised Mr Gurrey’s design with great skill. The use of yellow colouring for the English words and green for the Latin enables both texts to be discerned yet simultaneously creates a complex abstract pattern to which the shadow cast on the wall behind contributes its share, an effect at once mysterious and challenging attention. Charles Gurrey is to be congratulated on a most successful artistic and devotional concept for which there appears to be no earlier precedent. The statue and the panel were funded by local giving and a substantial donation from the Cottam Will Trustees to whose generosity the parish is much indebted.
Links to Hymns