The wheeze to Birmingham from London up the M1 can be more interesting than it first appears on google maps. First a stop at Coventry Cathedral. Moving for obvious reasons, I cannot help but feel staggered by the enormous Sutherland tapestry, moved to disbelief by the Cross of Nails, stunned to silence in the Chapel of Unity. It’s invigorating, frustrating, challenging, inspiring. The cheesy American Diner Café thing underneath is also bearable.
Twenty minutes up the road, through all sorts of industrial estates, and you stumble upon the enchanting and mystical village of Berkswell. According to legend, it was founded when the Saxon leader Bercul was baptised here in the 8th Century. The well, in which he was dunked, remained a source of fresh water until the late 1930’s.
The view as you approach St. John’s Church from the east is quaint and nostalgic. A Norman chancel to the right, timber school room above the porch, and Dutch gable to the left of the Well House.
The interior, albeit dark, is reminiscent of an Oxford Movement interior, without the gold leaf and lace. The Nave rises up three blocks of steps up to the Norman arch, into the intricately chiselled and carved chancel. I was the only visitor, and didn’t turn on the lights. The lack of any 21st century additions (yellow floor tape, plastic signage) enabled a true aura of mytique.
Visitors seem truly welcome here. You don’t feel part of a tourist trail; every part of the church is open without supervision or even CCTV (so far as I could see). This level of trust in visitors left me feeling truly grateful to the church community who tend to this magnificent building. The famous crypt beneath is open, without entry fee. Whether the burial place of St. Mildred or not, the rib vaulting in the octagonal chamber is stupefying in it’s beauty. It is a place of true tranquility.
I absolutely love this church and am so happy to have been able to visit it at last. And whatever you think of the extension outside, the journey from Norman architecture to the 21st century left me feeling truly optimistic about this community of worshippers.