The Washington Post today described the situation of the church where Shakespeare's bones lie, underneath the famous curse on anyone who moves them (shown in their photo at right). The article described the large numbers of visitors to Stratford, who often know little about the man in the grave.
"Money is a big issue for the 800-year-old church these days because the roof leaks, the metal in the windows is corroding and a small invasion force of deathwatch beetles is boring into the ancient timbers," says the article. "It is a familiar story in England, where hundreds of centuries-old churches, left largely devoid of worshipers by a modern trend toward secularism, need hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of repairs."
The paragraph above doesn't mention that many little towns in England never (or only very recently) recovered the population density that they had before the Black Death in the fourteenth century. And it doesn't deal with later changes to the wool industry -- wealth from wool often enabled the medieval build-up of these churches. So the lack of human and material resources to maintain the churches is due to many more factors than secularism.
When we were in Cambridge for a long stay, and on other trips, I've seen many of these old and poorly maintained churches. Often the parishoners seem to be camping in the middle of a huge expanse of soaring interior space. A small number of pews with modern embroidered cushions and a few banners on the wall around a modern altar suggest a committed but miniscule group of faithful worshippers. In the entryway are often announcements of the activities of the congregation.
The architecture of these village churches is usually quite interesting. Placards point to details like carved seats, an antique pulpit, or a surviving stained-glass window. A volunteer is often present to offer information about the history of the village and the building. In most churches, a sign asks for contributions to such necessities as roof repair. The church at Stratford, with its constant stream of visitors, is comparatively lucky!
See: A Day at Shakespeare's Grave in today's Washington Post. For a photo of the church's exterior, see my earlier post: Stratford upon Avon.