A few years ago, I watched a BBC television feature on a little church in Tudeley which housed stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall. By the end of the program, a visit to All Saints Church Tudeley was in my Bucket List. So when 3 weeks ago the Hubby had a couple of days’ work with a client down in Rochester (Kent), I grabbed the opportunity to tag along with the goal of striking out to neighboring Tudeley from there. I planned to go via Tonbridge, about an hour away by train from the Strood station, which was in turn a bus ride and walk from the hotel. A long-time admirer of Chagall’s works, I have been lucky that 2 of them are within easy viewing for me when in Chicago : the Four Seasons outdoor mosaic murals (4-sided) at the Chase Plaza entrance to the Dearborn Blue Line station; and of course the America windows at the Art Institute. All Saints in Tudeley is particularly special because it is the only Church where all (12!) its stained glass windows are works of the Artist. There is a tragic, heartbreaking story behind the Windows’ commission, but it all turned to good as both Story and Artwork are now immortalized by the collaborative genius of Chagall and glassmaker Charles Marq of Reims.
My trek to All Saints Church Tudeley began with this page, and the “How To Find Us” directions here. For all the big-time, long-road, open-sky driving that I do in the US, I cannot drive here in the UK (yet). So, from among my available options to get to the Church, I decided to do so by-foot, instead of cab or bus. That decision came easily enough : The walking directions, which I carefully copied by hand, had described the trek as “delightful”; and I was quickly sold on the lyrical characterization of the landmarks along the way:
“the road rises to the crest of the hills and then descends”
“parade of shops”
“little black and white lodge”
“green footpath fingerpost”
“charming foot path lane between high sided walls (may be wet underfoot)”
“charming wooded dells”
Indeed, a pied it is. Surely, I thought, there will be a throng of visitors headed the same way from the train station. That scenic 2.5 mile walk will be dreamy and enjoyable; and it will give me a good 5,000 steps exercise on the walking app (multiplied by 2 if I walked back!). I also envisioned having interesting exchanges with fellow enthusiasts. EASY. Or so I thought.
I hurled the first of my assumptions out the window as soon as I got off the train. I should’ve known that a gloomy, chilly, windy Thursday is not exactly the best day for the Chagall Window Enthusiasts sub-set. Or perhaps any one for that matter. I found myself walking alone, often bemused if a house or footpath qualifies as “charming” as described in the Directions, and second-guessing what exactly “wooded dells” looked like. I was a City-Mouse lost in the deep country. At some point I found myself the only human within sight, often shadowed by that nagging feeling of being followed. Of course, it turned out that the imagined sound of footsteps or rustling was actually my backpack rubbing against my neoprene jacket. I walked through lush fields, mountains of molehills, nettles and brambles that whipped at the hems of my jeans. I wondered where to shelter if the clouds suddenly gave in and poured, and hesitated when a path Y’s out to different paths. It amuses but doesn’t surprise me, on hindsight, that “The Blair Witch Project” movie was on my mind as I sallied forth. [Slideshow below to view some of the bits I saw along the way.]:
By the time I finally managed to get the Destination within sight, the clouds have given way and Sun was out full-blast. I had sweat running down the small of my back. My ankles were soft and wobbly. My pedometer indicated that it took Lost and Flat-footed Me a total of 7.1 miles (2 hours +) to do the 2.5 mile walk. :) I crossed the dusty road to a little village church that looked outwardly plain and unspectacular, curious to see what lies inside. [Hover mouse over the bottom of each pics below to see my marginal notes!].
As it turned out, the church building’s deceptively unsophisticated exterior was the perfect tension before the BIG WOW. Pushed open, the main wooden door was the rabbit-hole to a wholly different world. The plain white walls and exposed beams provided the perfect canvas for Chagall’s masterpieces. That day, within that smallish space, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, I walked into a magnificent crossfire of light from 12 vibrantly colorful sets of windows, — mainly beaming the Blues of night sky and deep sea, and a bit of golden Yellows the color of corn and sunlight. The Windows framed an eclectic collection of Biblical characters, members of the D’Avignon family, the Moon, fishes and doves, sea creatures, playful donkeys, mythical birds, the whisper of Chagall’s term of endearment for his wife (“Vava”), and a selfie of the artist himself!
I’ve read somewhere that the experience of Tudeley All Saints Church feels like being inside a jewelry box. That is an understatement — I felt like being inside the jewel itself, — and a perfect, most sparkling one at that. Slideshow below : —
Best of all, I had that wonderful space all to myself for most of the time. It’s not always like this. The place gets packed with visitors in the summer apparently. And so I lingered a bit, savored the quiet and the glow of natural and enhanced lights, and remembered my dad. How I wish he were still around to hear me blabber about this. And finally, when it was time to head back, I took the bus. Exhausted and jelly-legged, thoughtful and happy. :)
1. Don’t forget to walk into the open Vestry on the west side of the Church (directly opposite the altar). There is a switch towards the back which lights up the Boscawen Windows (Victorian glass) on the south wall. These panels were replaced by the last Chagall installations.
2. The walking from Tunbridge station is indeed scenic and beautiful. However if walking through isolated paths is not your thing, make sure you plan ahead and go with a group. It may not be easy to navigate the Directions on your own.
3. If you are taking the walk, make sure you pack enough drinking water, your phone is charged or bring back-up power so you can keep in touch if you get lost. It is quite a long walk, — with lots of ups and downs and uneven grounds, — and you WILL get lost if it is your first time. Give yourself enough time allowance, and the cardinal rule: wear comfortable shoes.
4. There are interesting and very good publications and postcards on the side of the church. And a donation box to drop payments and donations.
5. There is a labyrinth on grounds. I didn’t see it though.
6. 1.5 miles away is the St. Thomas a Becket Chapel. No longer in active use. Supposedly has fantastic 13th century painted murals. It’s still on my list of to-sees.
7. Bus service to the train station is infrequent — an hour between buses. And they don’t run late. The last bus is just past 4:00 p.m., so plan accordingly.
“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”
― Marc Chagall