Monday, 2 October 2017

St Mary the Virgin, Staverton

As a profound atheist I seem to visit churches on an inordinate number of occasions. Of course it is the churchyards with their attendant gravestones that are the main attraction but for all the discreditable role of religion over the ages such as reinforcing class divisions in society and the established church having a symbiotic, almost incestuous relationship to the monarchy, (and yes, I know there were many courageous members of the clergy who abhorred the status and self-glorification of the church) I admit that the actual church building itself is often a place of beauty. Staverton's church, a Grade 1 listed building dating from the early 14th century, was much admired by Nicholas Pevsner and, in my unschooled and unsophisticated way, I can understand why.
The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Staverton,
Northants. 2 October, 2017
The stained-glass windows are attractive without being overwhelming and are quite conventional in form and subject. Some were garish but this example, in muted tones, was more to my liking.
The church houses some attractive stained glass
One reason for entering the church was to escape a shower of rain but it proved to be of short duration and I was able to make my way into the churchyard. The gravestones, like the church itself,  were largely of Northamptonshire ironstone. This is fine for a century or so but it is not durable; it generally weathers badly and in consequence many older inscriptions were indecipherable. A disused quarry still can be seen near Staverton and this may be the source of the stone.
Ivy was present in considerable quantities and scores of insects were feasting at the flowers. Unfortunately only a few species were represented and the only photogenic one, a smart Noon Fly, Mesembrina meridiana, scarpered as I approached. [I checked out this odd word. It turns out to be World War II rhyming slang: Scapa Flow, go - but I'm sure you knew that already.]
The berries were forming on the ivy and its interesting flower organisation was obvious. Clusters (in this case umbels) of flowers, with the yellow stamens protruding, can be seen surrounding a dozen or so earlier flowers - already pollinated - on which the berries are steadily developing.
Ivy, with berries developing in the middle and later flowers
displaying their stamens
The stamens will quickly fall from the surrounding flowers for their stigmas to become receptive to pollen from yet other flowers. In this way the berries develop and ripen over several weeks and so through much of the winter a succession will be available to hungry birds. The plant is moderately poisonous with the glycoside hederin present. If ingested in quantity this can lead to toxicosis although the plant has sometimes been fed to livestock in an emergency.
Anyway, back to the flies. I took a small representative sample to confirm my cursory identification and then turned over bits of broken masonry searching for spiders. The grey-black, rather sinister-looking Amaurobius ferox seems to favour this habitat but all I found was a rather torpid newt. I'm reasonably certain that it was a Palmate Newt, Lissotriton helveticus, but I'm no herpetologist and didn't wish to disturb it further by handling it. I carefully replaced its covering stone.

Probably a Palmate Newt but I didn't wish to disturb it.
Staverton churchyard, 2 October, 2017
The rain was again threatening and I called it a day. Back at the car the temperature reading was 15 degrees but in the blustery wing it felt more like ten. I wasn't sorry to be going.

Tony White :

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