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St. John the Baptist's Church

The church of St. John the Baptist in Bristol was apparently so named because it adjoined a long-gone ford over the River Frome. Dating from 1350 to 1500, it is highly unusual on two counts. Firstly it is a two-storey church like the Royal Chapel still to be seen at Sainte-Chapelle (Paris) and that nearer to home at the Palace of Westminster of which only the lower church survives. Secondly it incorporates, below its tower, the only remaining City Gate of Bristol.

The association of church and gate was not uncommon in medieval times, yet extremely few survive (See also St. Swithun's, Winchester). Travellers were able to stop at the church to offer prayers for a safe journey, whilst incumbents were able to take advantage of profits thereby incurred. They would, furthermore, act as holy guardians defending the city. This northern gate features statues of Belinus and Brennius, legendary founders of Bristol. There were churches above the west and south gates of the city too, and St. John's even had to share its tower with a second church, dedicated to St. Lawrence, on the western side of the gate. This was deconsecrated in 1580 and removed in 1824.

The main upper church houses some interesting features. At the north-west corner, now unfortunately obscured by a 17th century gallery, are said to be hidden a manacle and stage used to expose to the populace, those under sentence from the ecclesiastical courts. There is a fine 17th century ironwork hour-glass stand, 18th century sculptured beasts flanking the Royal arms, a sword or mace rest, some fragments of medieval glass in the nave and a nice effigy of the benefactor, Walter Frampton in the chancel. The brass in the south of wall of the chancel is to Thomas Rowley (c.1478) who founded the Guild of the Holy Cross and made the lower church into its Chapel. This vaulted area, usually known as 'the Crytpt' is, perhaps, the more attractive level. It was a prestigious place of burial and boasts a number of good effigial monuments.

The Church is owned and opened to the public by the Churches Conservation Trust. Admission free, but donations welcome.

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