Church of St John the Divine, Cliviger

A most attractive area of Burnley is Cliviger, with its gorge and moorland. In keeping with this beauty is the local parish church, St John the Divine. It is notable for the following:

  • It was built in the eighteenth-century. It looks ‘foreign’, unlike most parish churches. Its continental, Italian style, with its cupola and elegant columns, includes more than a hint of classicism. It almost looks Roman or Greek; by the 1700s, the pointed arches of gothic medievalism were out of fashion. The eighteenth century saw itself as a shift away from the heavy traditions of the past and into a new era of learning, reflecting the classics and the ancients’ love of science and philosophy. To some extent, this was helpful, but the ‘Enlightenment’, the name given this period of intellectual thought, gave way to general unbelief and rejection of divine revelation.
  • It is the burial place of General James Scarlett, who led the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. As a professional soldier, his objective had been to remain alive while the enemy died. Now he too is dead.
  • The remains of an earlier, Tudor chapel can be spotted in the perimeter wall. Described as ‘a rude but picturesque little building’, it had fallen into decay and was too small for the parish. It was probably a chantry chapel- a church whose primary purpose is to pray for the souls of the deceased in order to hasten their departure from purgatory. Belief in purgatory was rejected at the Reformation; If Christ paid for our sins upon the cross, why do we need to top-up his payment by sitting in a fire?
  • Adjacent to the church yard is the site of the old village stocks. Local nuisances would have their legs placed therein by the constable, by order of the Justice of the Peace or his deputies. Situating places of public punishment so close to churches was common; similar stocks are found at Woodplumpton, (north Preston) and Churchtown (near Southport). Then, the local church was the centre of village life and therefore the obvious place to remind the community of what happens to petty malignants.
  • Finally, there is a fine example of an outdoor Victorian water closet. I have wondered what our forebears did before or after church when they needed to answer nature’s call. Built into the church-yard wall, with a helpful date stone claiming 1873, gentlemen could slip away and spend their penny. There is another next door, presumably for the more delicate operation of ladies.