THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST
SUTTON ON PLYM
The parish church of St John the Evangelist stands in Exeter Street alongside the main dual carriage way into Plymouth City Centre.
St John’s church was built to an original design by Benjamin Ferrey, who had studied under Augustus Wilby Pugin, the most famous Roman Catholic architect of the day. The building was built of rag stone with sandstone dressing and consisted of a chancel, nave, north and south aisles, north chapel, north west porch and a tower to the north east with a spire containing one bell, The bell was cast at Mears bell foundry of London and weighs three hundred weight two quarters and seventeen pounds.
The church of St John the Evangelist was consecrated June 21st 1855 by Bishop Henry Philpotts of Exeter.
Then it was just a building, but over a century and a half has seen the addition of statues, windows and other furnishings. These have been given by the many worshippers who found peace and comfort in this church. Some of the gifts were for sorrowful occasions and others for joy. The saying is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We believe the church is beautiful and hope this small guide will help you see what we see.
MAIN FEATURES OF THE INTERIOR
The current entrance to the church was added to the building around the beginning of the last century. The most notable features of the ‘porch’ are the windows given in memory of young men lost in the First World War and probably buried in a foreign field. These windows have the signature of Ninian Comper (a strawberry plant in the corner). Sadly, one window was destroyed by a person entering the building unlawfully. The statue in the niche is 'Christ the King'.
The font, situated at the rear of the church is crowned with a superb carved cover
attributed to the Pinwell Sisters. These two daughters of a local vicar became
interested in woodwork which was being carried out in their father’s church and
set up their own carving firm. There are a number of items by them in the church
Behind the font is a window transferred to the church from the Garrison Church where it had originally been installed. It portrays a miracle which is appropriate for the donors who were the blind of Plymouth.
Below this window is a memorial book containing the names of past worshippers..
On the wall are the memorial plaques listing the past pupils of Sutton High School who gave their lives in defence of the country. These plaques were transferred to the church when the school was closed.
In the north chapel aisle is the Statue of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom
Also in the North Aisle is the Lady Chapel which is dedicated to Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus.
The chapel was erected in 1883 by Mr Charles Norrington, at the time church warden of St John’s, as a memorial to his son Harold
The Chapel was hit by one of the first bombs to be dropped during the blitz on Plymouth.
Remarkably, the Pinwell Sisters Altar carving survived to be reused when the chapel was rebuilt in 1955.
The original windows were ruined during the bombing and 5 new ones were commissioned.
The window above the altar shows Our Lady, Star of the Sea, very relevant for the parish which was composed of many fishermen. Other windows depict Our Lady’s family namely her mother and father and S. Joseph.
The organ situated in the Lady Chapel was acquired as a temporary accompaniment to our congregation during the renovation of the main organ. This organ was built around 1855 by Hunter and Webb and is listed on the country’s register of important instruments.
On the wall outside of the chapel there is a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham seated before a decorated background. This form of Our Lady is based on a seal used at a pilgrimage centre at Walsingham for many centuries before Henry VIII destroyed it. This was in spite of him previously having made his pilgrimage there. The Norfolk centre was restored in the twentieth century and now receives many pilgrims throughout the year.
Our Lady is again represented in the blue and white plaster plaque on the chapel wall. This is in the style of Della Robbia and was once hanging in the daughter church of S. John which was situated in South Milton Street. This church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Mary Magdalene. Although not used as a church since the 1960’s, the building was demolished only a few years ago.
A recent (2019) addition to the North Aisle is an Icon of the Patron Saint St John, the Icon
is dedicated to Fr Brian Lay a former Parish Priest.
The wine glass shaped edifice of the pulpit is in the French style and decorated with paintings of Bible scenes showing the call of St John; Our Lord with St John at the last supper; St John at the foot of the Cross.; and St John writing the Apocalypse.
Surmounting the pulpit is a very fine crucifix of oak with a well carved figure of olive wood.
At the central part of the church there is the sanctuary, in which the High Altar is positioned and also the home of the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord is still with us by his presence in the Blessed Sacrament. The Altar has a splendid reredos which depicts the crucifixion scene in the centre. However, the central basis of the Christian belief is shown on the right side panel as Jesus rises from the tomb. He remained with his disciples for forty days before ascending to Heaven and this scene is shown on the other panel. Above the reredos is the east window which displays the four Evangelists –Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the roundel at the top is the Lamb and Flag, a symbol of the resurrection.
Above the sanctuary steps, is a strikingly beautiful Rood which was carved in Oberammergau in 1912. S. Mary and S. John look on in what must be disbelief.
Similar statues of these two saints stand in the niches on either side. These statues also came from Oberammergau although the other woodwork was again supplied by the Pin well Sisters.
The Sacristy and organ form a memorial to JP Brown OBE sometime churchwarden and benefactor to St John’s.
The organ was originally placed in the building by Messrs Hele and Co. in 1859, it now has two manuals and twenty three speaking stops, six couplers, with electric action and blower. It was rebuilt in 1936 by Messrs Hele & Co. The organ has undergone renovation again in 2016.
The next side altar in the South Aisle is dedicated to S. Peter and S. Boniface. The Reredos, obviously by the same hand as that in the lady chapel, depict the Crucifixion of Christ with ministering Angels, to the Gospel side St Peter, holding the keys to the kingdom, and to the Epistle side, St Boniface wearing full ponitficals carrying his crosier, and a scourge in his right hand.
St Peter is the Patron of our Diocese (Exeter) and St. Boniface is probably the most famous saint of Devon having been born in Crediton.
He is now the Patron Saint of Europe.
In the South Aisle wall there are two pairs of windows depicting scenes from the life of S. John and are instances from the scriptures in which our patron features. S. John was said to be Our Lord’s favourite disciple. In one scene he is shown as leaning on Jesus’ breast as if listening to that very Sacred Heart itself.
There are also memorials on the wall commemorating former worshippers Walter Read and James Walker, early benefactors to S John’s church.
A recent (2019) addition in the South Aisle is a Shrine and Icon of St Nicholas, Patron Saint of
Seafarers. This reflects the longstanding association of the church with the local fishing fleet and, more recently leisure seafarers in the local marinas.
(For further architectural detail visit: https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101244521-church-of-st-john-the-evangelist-sutton-and-mount-gould-ward#.W9xDhvZ2uJY)