All Saints’ Church, Tudeley, Tonbridge TN11 0NZ.
The church has large car park.
Tudeley has had a church since the beginning of the Seventh Century – it was one of only four in the Weald at that time. The earliest parts of today’s church are the sandstone footings of the nave and tower, which date from before the Norman conquest. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book under Tivedale – one of its many name variants:
“Richard de Tonbridge holds TIVEDALE of the bishop of Bayeux. It is assessed at 1 yoke. There is land for 1 plough, and it is there on the demesne and a church, and woodland (to render) 2 swine…”
A list of incumbents hanging in the church begins in 1251, but most of the structure that can be seen today is from the 18th century. The brick tower dates from around 1765, as does the delicately marbled ceiling; the North aisle was added in 1871.
All Saints’ Tudeley is the only church in the world to have all its twelve windows decorated by the great Russian artist Marc Chagall.
The east window at Tudeley is a memorial tribute to Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid who died aged just 21 in a sailing accident off Rye in 1963. Sarah was the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid; the family then lived at the fine Jacobean house Somerhill (now a school) which is situated nearby. Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid had shown an early interest in contemporary art, and had bought the first picture that David Hockney ever sold, snapping it up at his student show. She and her mother saw the designs for the Hadassah windows at an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris in 1961, and were enthralled by them. After Sarah’s death, Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid commissioned Chagall to design the magnificent east window.
In commemorating the daughter of a Jewish father and an Anglican mother, Chagall was an inspired choice. He was a Russian Jew, but one who often included Christ in his work, and who spoke of him as “the radiant young man in whom young people delight”.
Chagall came to stained glass work relatively late in his long career. Some of his finest work in the medium is at the synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem, depicting the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Chagall was initially reluctant to take on the commission, but was eventually persuaded – and when in 1967 he arrived for the installation of the east window and saw the church, he said, ‘It’s magnificent. I will do them all.’ Over the next 15 years, Chagall designed all the remaining 11 windows, collaborating as usual with glassworker Charles Marq of Reims. The chancel windows were finally installed in 1985, the year of Chagall’s death at the age of 98 (replacing Victorian glass, now cunningly backlit by a specially designed lightbox installed in the vestry, at the suggestion of Sir Hugh Casson).
The Tudeley windows are inspired, said Chagall, by the words of Psalm 8, especially verses 4-8:
“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.
“You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”
One of the wonders of the Tudeley windows is that they are at eye level: one can go right up to them and see the marks of Chagall’s hands. He would scratch and mark his windows right up to the final stage of making – some say even after they were installed. This distinguishes the Tudeley windows from most of his other stained glass, which tends to be high up and hard to see.
The only other Chagall glass in Britain is a window at Chichester Cathedral. Despite some claims to the contrary, Tudeley really is the only church in the world to have all its windows decorated by Chagall. The other contenders are the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem – but this is of course not a church, but a synagogue – and Le Saillant, Limousin, France, which is a chapel.