Hospital of St John without the Barrs

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September, 2013

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Lichfield Cathedral was a popular place of pilgrimage as the remains of St Chad were buried there. A new cathedral was built in the C12th with a fortified close with a defensive ditch and rampart. There were four gates or ‘barrs’ which were closed at night. This presented problems to pilgrims who arrived after the barrs were closed. A priory dedicated to St John the Baptist was built just outside the south gate which provided food and shelter for travellers arriving late at night.

By the C15th, the fortifications were no longer needed and the gates were left open. There was no need for overnight accommodation for pilgrims, and the priory was refounded as a hospital for ‘aged men’. It was ordained in the statutes that there should be “thirteen honest poor men upon whom the inconveniences of old age and poverty without any fault of their own, had fallen”. In addition to their lodging, the men would receive 7d a week. They were to be honest and devout and attend prayers every day. There was to be a Master in Holy Orders appointed by the Bishop.

The distinctive eight chimneys fronting St John’s Street date back to this period. Each resident had his own room and fireplace. The canons’ and pilgrims’ hall next to the chapel, was enlarged as a house for the master and a new wing was added. A school was also provided.

The building is an attractive brick building fronting on St John Street. An archway in the centre leads to a grassy courtyard.

There is an accommodation block. The chapel is on the right. It is a small stone building with a small bell cote above the north aisle. The chapel dates from the C12th but was in a ruinous condition by the C17th. The north aisle was added in 1829 and there was a major restoration in 1870.

As soon as you walk through the door, there is a strong smell of incense. A wood screen separates the entry porch from the church.

Eyes are immediately drawn to the east window representing Christ in Majesty. The figure of Christ stands in the centre surrounded by blue glass with green angels at the base and the signs of the four evangelists at the corners. The window dates from 1984 and is the work of John Piper who was responsible for the baptistry window in Coventry Cathedral.

Below is a modern wood altar with a wooden reredos picked out in gold. In the centre is a modern portrait of Christ, holding a cross. On the side of the chancel are three old choir stalls.

Pillars and pointed arches separate nave and north aisle. Walls are whitewashed and there is a lovely wood beam roof which was part of the 1870 restoration. The pews in the nave have carefully carved poppy heads. At the end of the north aisle are abstract religious paintings in shades of brown.

There are two old wooden chests and a small stone font. On the north wall are modern representations of the Stations of the Cross. There is a small prie dieu below a wall plaque with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child surrounded by garlands of flowers and gilded cherub heads at the base.

At the back of the church are two rather nice 19thC stained glass windows in sheds of grey with splashes of colour on the figures. On the south side there are representations of John the Baptist and St George. On the left are St Philip and W Smith, Bishop.

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