Hope Bagot is the smallest parish in Shropshire and the tiny settlement at its core has so few dwellings that it hardly warrants the title of village. You get to it along a very narrow, bendy, uppy-downy road that is kept in perpetual gloom by the hedgerows growing high and thick on either side. It has the feel of a secret and ancient locality where religions have come and gone without altering the underlying spirituality of the place. This is emphasised by the presence of a holy well at the edge of the circular (Celtic) churchyard. Looming over the spring is its protector, a yew tree that is at least sixteen hundred years old and, as yew trees are found in Celtic rather than pagan Roman holy places it is very likely that the tree was a sapling well before (I)Claudius decided that a successful invasion of Britain would be a good way of pleasing the folks back home and taking their minds off poisoning him.
The Norman church of John the Baptist, probably named such because of the holy well within its grounds, has a beautiful simplicity that harks back to the Saxon rather than anticipating the complications of the gothic. Somehow it does not stand against the pantheism of the previous divine inhabitants of this site. The main gates open on to a field rather than a busy main street and its present custodians, who rightly call themselves its friends, have turned the churchyard into a wild flower meadow and the gravestones as well, no doubt, as those who sleep beneath them, are cosier for this and rest more peacefully, eternally.
Less than five miles south of Hope Bagot stands a church of a completely different hue. While Saint John the Baptist's is all understatement and humility, Saint Mary's, Burford, is totally bling as befits the final resting place of a royal princess (Elizabeth daughter of John of Gaunt and sister to King Henry IV). The tombs are medieval but their paint jobs are more than likely nineteenth century. All is shiny and brassy and sumptuous. The privileged in life vaingloriously sought privilege also in death. But the humble beneath the sod of Hope Bagot's country churchyard will fare better on the day of judgement than the ennobled Plantagenets beneath the tiles of Burford church.
"Look at my works ye mighty and despair. Nothing besides remains."