We sent Colchester Borough Council's Arts & Heritage Project Officer, Lois Garrod-Smith, out to St Michael & All Angels Church in Copford to discover what secrets it holds.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about the incredibly vast heritage that Colchester holds. From the impressive Roman wall to its magnificent castle, the town is teeming with wonderful heritage that almost waves at you as you come over the horizon towards it.  

However, what you may be interested in are the hidden gems of the Borough. Those heritage sites that are still just as beautiful and Instagram-able but are tucked away just waiting to be explored. 

One of these is St Michael and All Angels Church in Copford. Only five minutes off the A12 just south of Colchester, this rather traditional-looking church is home to a lot more than hymn books. 
Copford Church Exterior

With an ancient door near the west end on the north side, which hangs on partly original hinges, this building captivates you the moment you enter. Under this door are supposedly, some pieces of ‘parchment’ which were discovered around 1780. It is thought this is because of an ancient and gruesome local tradition, that if a Viking had been caught plundering the church he paid for his disrespectful act with his skin. However, Vikings predated the building of the church by 200 years or more. The more likely truth may be that the skin had belonged to a poacher caught stalking the king’s deer. The law at the time of Henry I stated that “If a man chaseth the deere and mayketh him pannte if he be free, he shall lose his hand, if bond, his skin.” A forensic examination of the ‘parchment’ early in the 20th century confirmed that the skin was that of a fair-skinned male. 


Copford Church door

A far more uplifting site waits for you at the bottom of the aisle in the semi-circular apse. A sea of blue and gold colours, with angels and saints watching over you. These breath-taking paintings are a sight to behold. Featuring images of Christ, the apostles as well as other biblical stories. The images you can see today are firstly very diminished compared to when they were first created, as walls and windows were added paintings were lost. Secondly, the paintings have been added too and altered meaning what we can see today is very different from the original work. A unique feature is the inclusion of the signs of the zodiac. No other English church seems to possess a complete Zodiac. When they were uncovered, after being hidden for over three hundred years, the figures of Leo, Cancer and the Virgin (with a halo) were found intact. 


Wall paintings in Copford Church

The church has a beautiful woodland setting and is located at the edge of the village. Perfect to pop on your walking shoes, explore this amazing church as well as the local natural beauty.  

The Church is open to visitors on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at this present time from 9am until 5pm and asks that you follow their COVID-19 guidelines on arrival.  

Happy heritage hunting and make sure you tag us on any social media posts following your adventures!  

Lois Garrod Smith is Colchester Borough Council's Arts & Heritage Project Officer and has previously worked with the British Museum and Museum of East Anglian Life to complete their traineeship programme, gaining a Level 3 Diploma in Cultural Heritage.

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