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Guest article by Albert Resonox

The church of St. John The Baptist, The Street, Capel Surrey is built on the site of the original chapel or “capella”, from whence the village takes its name. The first recording of the church was in records of 1235, but became the property of The Knights Templar in 1263,  as did many churches in the Surrey area (Redhill and Wotton being two of the examples).  The Street was part of the original Roman road between London and the south coast and later became an important staging post for stagecoaches on the same route.

The church has been extensively added to and refurbished over the centuries, and the oldest legible gravestone, with the then popular skull and crossbones motif, is dated 1694.  Some gravestones have been resited and  affixed to the south wall along with a strange holed slab, and no-one I have questioned can state its original purpose.* The slab is approx 30″ square and 5″ thick… the hole is tapered and surrounded by a (rapidly eroding) pattern of a raised square with petalled corners.

Some people seem to think it is/was a millstone, highly unlikely, due to it’s shape.  I feel it may have been a cover over a well, the pump and pipe could be inserted into the hole and the tapered end packed to hold it upright and steady, again this is pure guesswork.  Another possibility is that it is a “Standard-stone”, used by the Romans as a flag/sign post holder, this was a temporary means of marking a site of significance or place of worship to following legions.  These standard-stones are few and far between as quite often a temple or shrine was built and the standard-stone used again… recycling is nothing new.

This would make sense as by the Lych-gate, there is a mighty hollow yew tree, it is over 12 metres high and over 2 metres in diameter.  This tree  mistakenly celebrated its 1000th birthday in 1977,  however in 1993, The Conservation Foundation’s Yew Tree Campaign branch (no pun intended) using more scientific methodology accurately dated the tree to being 1,700 years old.

The fact that the tree appears to have been one of six in a sacred grove around a pond, might explain why this site held significance for the passing Romans or indeed why it was chosen to build a Christian edifice there in the first place. It was common practice for the church and indeed the Romans prior to that, to use sites already frequented by “pagan” worshippers, as these worshippers would still come to that site regardless of which god was on offer, and we thought our generation invented lowering the carbon footprint!

It is also rumoured that anyone walking round the tree 100 times at midnight will raise a ghost… who or what this ghost is and why it should be summoned thus has never been discovered as to date no-one has been brave enough to take up the challenge.

The pond, sadly, has been filled in for many centuries now, but next door there is a watering hole which goes by the name of The Crown, to refresh the thirsty pilgrim/worshipper/traveller or indeed to give Dutch courage for any ghost raising experiments. As for me I’ll stick to raising spirits in your good health… Cheers!

* The mystery holed stone may also be something brought from France by The Knights Templar because in some churches in France there is a hole in the floor (no not the toilet!!!) close to the altar, where the excess communion wine is poured to return it to the earth… this would seem to stem from a sacrificial tradition much older than Christianity. Or… you can go for the Christian solution here !


March 2010

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