In the year 1287. Peter Quinel, Bishop of Exeter issued statutes decreeing that all churches in the Diocese of Exeter should have an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was part of the developing cult of Mary that led from the eleventh century onwards to many churches changing their dedication from local saints to the Virgin. This seems to have happened in Barton in perhaps the thirteenth century, when this church changed its dedication from All Saints to the Blessed Virgin. Accordingly there was a proliferation of images of Mary about this period, which could serve as objects of pilgrimage as well as devotion. Most of these images were swept away at the Reformation.
In 2012, a member of the congregation, Mr Brian Pettifer, presented Saint Mary's Church with an image of the Virgin, and after due process of faculty, it was installed and dedicated on December 24 2012. The image is of wood, painted, and is thought to be Dutch in origin and to date from the mid-nineteenth century. It is not of course mentioned in Warwick Rodwell's book on the history and furnishings of the church.
The donor, Brian Pettifer, writes:
You may be interested to know how this gift of the sculpture of St Mary to this church has come about. It is really an act of restoring a lost treasure to a place, a people, a community. Something like this must have been here in the church before the religious conflict of the 16th century brought about its removal.
It has taken several centuries for the events centred around the Reformation and the Counter Reformation to be seen with less rancour.
As far as I am concerned this is an appropriate time for a sculpture suitable both in terms of its religious significance and its aesthetic qualities to be brought here. Although we have no evidence of this or at least none that I know of, it is reasonable to say that this church, dedicated in the second quarter of the 13th century to St Mary had an effigy, probably a decorated wooden sculpture, depicting her in this place.
She is now here properly installed and with her Faculty, a permanent gift to anyone who ventures into this lovely place of worship. I hope it will provide a beautiful object for those wishing to consider a historical person and also a focus for devotion and prayer for those drawn to the Christian vision of life and community. I understand from Father David that this Dutch decorated wooden sculpture dating from about 1850 probably depicts the Virgin as the woman in Revelation 12.1; “A Great Portent; A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of 12 stars”. No attempt is made to claim that this piece is a replacement of what might have been there from the 13th century. After all it was made at least 5 centuries after the founding of this church. It can only be a substitute. I hope it will be appreciated in its own right and in a permanent way.
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