Walk Around Pip n Jay Church
Begin by walking up the main aisle. From the centre of the aisle you can see the chancel arch which separates the chancel from the main body of the church. The centre of the arch appears to be out of true with the centre beam of the roof. This was done on purpose as a kind of visual aid for medieval congregations, reminding them that when Jesus was on the cross his head was said to have fallen to the left as he died.
Standing in the same spot look at the walls of the nave, where you will see five diamond-shaped panels or 'hatchments'. The various coats of arms were barely visible before the hatchments were cleaned and restored in 1976.
Near the front of the nave, on the pulpit side, you will see some holes at the end of one of the pews. These are for the brackets which hold the sword rest, which in turn dates from 1610 and is kept locked up. A church officer will be delighted to show it to you. Each year the Lord Mayor, alderman and councillors attend a civic service here. The city sword is carried in procession and placed in the sword rest for the duration of the service. Now go into the chancel and you will be standing on the site of the old priory chapel. Here there were once choir stalls and a pipe organ, but in 1973 the chancel was transformed into a meeting room which also serves as an overflow area for up to 200 people in order to make maximum use of the space available.
Move forward into the sanctuary. In front of you is the communion table which dates from 1601, and the stained glass east window, which is dedicated to the memory of a former vicar of Pip 'n Jay, The Rev. S.E. Day, who died in 1864. On the north side of the chancel, to your left, is the side chapel known as Kemys' Aisle. It was named after John Kemys who founded a chantry chapel here in the fifteenth century (a chapel which was endowed so that a priest could say masses for the soul of its founder). Today it is converted into three rooms, each named after a twentieth-century member of Pip 'n' Jay. Alex Jones was a lay reader and choirmaster between 1964 and 1974; Canon T.P. Tindall was vicar from 1948 to 1955; and Gilbert Smith, who died in 1972, represents the many people who have found faith in Jesus Christ in this church. On leaving the Gilbert Smith room look up at the main church roof. This is made of oak, and dates from about 1390. Wherever the beams join there is a different carving or "boss'. Each of the brightly painted stone brackets ('corbels') which carry the main beams is also different and amusing. One is sticking his tongue out; another resembles a British Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson.
The recently restored Queen Anne coat of arms is positioned above the main entrance door. This coat of arms was the one used during the first five years of Anne's reign, 1702 - 1707. It is not known whether the queen ever visited the church, although as a poor parish it might have benefitted from the special gifts of money that she made Known at the time as Queen Anne's Bounty.
To the right of the pulpit is the entrance to the tower. Above the entrance arch is an open book almost 300 years old, listing the Ten Commandments. Go into the tower (but do not go up unless escorted by a church officer) and you are in what is probably the oldest part of the present church. This is thought to have been the original main entrance to the old church. Above you is the ringing chamber; in the storey above that there is a clock made in 1878 with just three outer faces. Finally, the top storey houses eight bells dating back to 1789. Return to the chancel and turn right at the bottom of the sanctuary steps. This brings you to the most modern part of the church. The old vestry has been transformed into a kitchen and toilet area, and beyond that is the extension, opened in 1986. Facilities here include a large lounge, four rooms and an office, all of which enable the church building to be put to good use throughout the week, as well as on Sundays.
The font, which has been variously described as Saxon or Anglo-Norman was moved from the South West corner of the church to the centre in 1907. When the Jacobean canopy of 1636 was restored in the late 1960s a group of young people re-varnished the canopy and was promptly accused of vandalism. However the Diocesan Registrar defended their action on the grounds that it had been varnished in the past. In the Church of England, he said, ‘you may always do what has been done before. It is only when you do something new that you get into trouble’. Many thousands of people have been baptized here, and on Sunday 25 June 1837, the last Sunday before the Registration Act came into force, no fewer than 138 children were baptized.
Churches have always been places of refuge for people in trouble. A medieval law allowed criminals to seek sanctuary in churches and there were severe penalties imposed on anyone who removed them from their safe haven. In 1279 the Constable of the Castle of Bristol (Peter de la Mare) and others forcibly removed one William de Lay from his refuge in St Philip's churchyard and had him beheaded. What crime the executed man had committed is unknown, but as a result the Bishop of Worcester sentenced the Constable and his accomplices to walk from the Church of the Lesser Friars, Lewin's Mead, to St Philip & St Jacob naked, except their breeches, and without their shirts, for four market days, for four weeks, each receiving discipline (being whipped) all the way. In addition, de la Mare the Constable, had to build a stone cross to the value of 100 shillings and give extra money where one hundred of the city's poor were to be fed once a year. He had also to make provision for a priest to celebrate mass wherever the Bishop wished, for the rest of his life.
The Jacobean pulpit dates from 1631 and has welcomed some famous visitors. In the eighteenth century the evangelical preachers John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield were well known in Bristol. They preached mainly in the open air, which church leaders considered irreverent. However, John Wesley and George Whitefield also came to St Philip's. George Whitefield noted in his journal: ‘Monday Feb. 19, 1739, read prayers and expounded as usual at Newgate (a prison in Bristol), and preached in the after-noon to a great multitude at the parish church of St. Philip & Jacob and collected 18.00 for the orphan house. Thousands went away because there was no room for them within, and God enabled me to read prayers and preach with great boldness’. During the Mission England evangelistic campaign of 1984, Billy Graham stood in this pulpit but without saying a word He just wanted to have a photograph taken in a pulpit where John Wesley had preached.