WELCOME to Frithelstock Town and to the ancient Church dedicated to the Mother of our Lord and to the Pope who sent missionaries to convert our heathen forefathers to the Christian Faith and found the English Church.
The ruins at the north-eastern corner of the Church are all that is left of the Priory founded by Sir Robert de Bello Campo about the year 1220 and endowed for a small community of Augustinian Canons. His purpose was that there should be some one to pray for the repose of his soul for ever after his death. Bishop Walter de Stapledon who was born at Annery, the great house near Monkleigh, increased the endowments and is considered a co-founder with Sir Robert. The church building that still stands was probably built for the families of the Priory retainers and the inhabitants of the village which grew up nearby.
Over the porch there is a sundial with the message "Umbra Sumus" - " we are shadows".
In the Porch there is a fine stone holy water stoup. The handle in the midddle of the Church door, like a knocker, is thought to be a Sanctuary Ring. In ancient times we are told that any criminal fleeing from the law was safe if he could grasp it.
The font just inside the door is of unusual design and very old. Its date is unknown but it may be Norman or Early English. The tiled base is of course Victorian. There are however many fine mediaeval tiles in various places on the floor of the Church. These were made in Barnstaple.
Just opposite the south door you will see the wall which is the oldest part of the Church. We think it dates from the thirteenth century but it could be older than that. On this wall there is a fine plaster Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II who restored freedom to the English people after the grim days of the Commonwealth when no one was allowed to dance or make merry, the Prayer Book was forbidden and even Christmas was done away with. No wonder they welcomed the Merry Monarch when he came back. This monument shows us what Frithelstock people thought about it. John Abbott of the Manor of Culleigh in this parish did the plasterwork and was paid ?13. Other examples of his work are found in the Custom House at Exeter and his tools, with the Frithelstock Book, are in the Museum at Exeter.
Half way down the Church a small door with a flight of steps leads up to an opening above the pulpit. This was the entrance to the Rood Screen which once went right across the Church at this point. A small piece of carved wood in the front pew may be the only remaining part of what must have been a wonderful screen.
Will you please pray for the founders, for the faithful priests and people who have ministered and worshipped here for hundreds of years and for your own departed relatives and friends. We would ask you not to forget our little Christian family who meet here week by week. Remember also your many blessings and offer your petitions here.
The pews at this end of the Church are ancient, probably of the fifteenth century. The ends are beautifully carved with different symbols notably the Instruments of the Passion, the Crown of Thorns, the whip, the reed etc. There is also the figure of a hart which recalls our connection with Hartland Abbey and the two heads of ecclesiastics facing each other with their tongues out. This is probably an allusion to a dispute between the Bishop of Exeter and the Prior of Frithelstock in the Middle Ages.
The pulpit is Jacobean and may have been brought here from another church. The organ, although it has only a single manual, has a very sweet tone. Behind the organ in the part of the aisle curtained off as a vestry there are memorials to the Gay family. These are thought to be connections of John Gay of "Beggar's Opera" fame. This is the newest part of the Church and was probably only just completed before the dissolution of the Priory in 1536.
We have no fine stained glass in this Church. That in the west window, a memorial to the Carwithian family, is pleasant Victorian glass but the colours of the east window are too violent for comfort.
In the magnificent tower there are six bells, two of which are mediaeval. One is dedicated to the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The bells are extremely heavy and have a very fine tone but they are difficult to ring, owing to the old fashioned and worn bearings on which they are hung.
If you turn left outside the Church Porch and go to the iron gate at the end of the path, you will be able to see the ruins of the Priory. In front and to the left is the space once occupied by the great tower. Looking eastwards, a slightly elevated mound marks the site of the high altar. Beyond was the Lady Chapel. There was also a small chapel or an aisle on the south side. The priory ruins are not part of the Parish Church and are not owned or administered by the Church authorities.
This information is from a guide leaflet written by Fr. Leonard Budge, the last Vicar.