HISTORIC ITEMS IN NEWPORT MINSTER
The Parish Chest
These days we all know about how we can trace our family tree back through centuries of time. One well-known way of doing this is to study the records kept in churches up and down the land. For hundreds of years, our churches have recorded the births, marriages and deaths of many of our ancestors, but how did this practice come about?
In 1538 the Lord Privy Seal for King Henry VIII – Sir Thomas Cromwell – ordered that every church in the land should keep a register that recorded the names of all those who were baptized, married or buried in every church.
The Register was to be kept in a Parish Chest with three locks and keys: one key was to be kept by the clergyman and two others by the church wardens.
Our Parish Chest is thought to be the original provided by the Town of Newport to contain its registers and probably dates from the end of the 16th century. It is therefore considerably older than the current church building.
The Vicar's Desk
The Vicar's reading desk was made from the original seventeenth century chancel screen.
It carried an inscription "fear God and Honour The King' however the second half of this was defaced by Roundhead supporters during the Civil War.
The Old Font
The act of baptism stretches back over 2000 years to the beginings of Christianity. In the Bible the baptism of Jesus is mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Across the world when people join the faith their sins are symbolically cleansed through the act of baptism. It can mean total immersion in water or, as here in Newport, the use of a font and water that is blessed by the vicar.
The Old Font was given to the Minster in 1633 by a lady called Anne Keith, in memory of her husband. It is an original part of a previous church on this site, but it has a strange history, because it disappeared for 150 years.
During the re-building of the church in the 1850s, the font went missing and only turned up in 2004, in a garden in Newport, where it was being used as a bird bath! We are very pleased that it has come home to the Minster.
Opposite the Vicars desk stands the pulpit, a magnificent Stuart creation complete with tester or sounding board. It was given to the original church by Stephen March, local merchant and Mayor of Newport in about 1631. It is his crest you can see carved on the backboard. It is a fine example of the work of the Flemish woodcarver Thomas Caper.
The outer face is made up of fourteen panels of carvings in two tiers: The upper tier contains the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, plus the four Cardinal virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude. Beneath this are the seven liberal arts and sciences, made up of Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Music, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy.
Under the headboard you can see a golden dove, which flies above the head of the vicar and represents the Holy Spirit. Whilst Oliver Cromwell ruled the Kingdom, the dove was hidden away and only replaced at the Restoration in 1660. It would still have been a very rich pulpit and may have survived because of the Puritan emphasis on preaching.
The text from Isiah 58, Verse 1 is painted around the top: "Cry aloud and spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet".
Did you know?
In September 1653, during the Puritan regime, the church minister William Martin was dismissed by the Town Corporation for mumbling; they complained about "the lowness and weakness of his voice, whereof very few of the congregation could hear his doctrine or receive benefit by his public ministry".