Bentham Church: Missing Founder

By the altar of Low Bentham’s Parish Church is a rather strange gravestone in which the image of the deceased has been removed and tiled over. The guidebook describes it as the Founder's coffin slab which was discovered during a Victorian restoration, with some faint fourteenth-century wording translated:

-who made this chancel on whose soul God have pity.

Whether this cry for pity was a real expression of faith and a wholesale venturing on God’s gracious mercy, one cannot tell. With the exception of John Wycliffe and his lollards, few in the 1300s enjoyed a clear understanding of the gospel, simple though it is. One hopes that the cost of building Bentham’s chancel was not some kind of plea bargain or attempt to bribe God. His salvation is received freely as a gift, or not at all. What struck me more, however, was the grave’s utter anonymity. The depiction of the face and body are long gone, and the name has been lost, only the cry for pity surviving.

Whether he was some local landlord or well-to-do cleric with cash to spare, his biographical details are lost for ever. Only God now knows his identity and the motive for his generosity. Whatever good you do, do it discreetly and quietly: this is what God prefers. And when you seek a place in heaven throw yourself on His mercy and offer nothing in payment: this is what God insists.

But Lord, in the multitude of thy mercy, I shall enter into thine house; I shall worship to thine holy temple in thy dread. Psalm 5:7, Wycliffe’s Translation