FOR most couples having the church burn down two days before the wedding might cause some disruption.
But not for Alicia Hardy and Darren Bunce who tied the knot on Saturday (June 21) as scheduled despite their original choice of church having gone up in flames not days before.
The couple’s hopes were dashed as St Peter’s Church in Ropley, near Alresford, was engulfed in flames on Thursday, leaving the roof, bell tower, medieval architecture and doorways devastated.
Lawyer Alicia, 46, and Alresford-based Darren, 45, said despite the damage it wasn’t going to get in the way of their big day and announced the last minute change of venue via Facebook.
They exchanged their vows in the nearby parish of Bishop’s Sutton at St Nicholas’ Church, surrounded by family and friends, including the four children they have between them - Kieran, 23, Amy, 20, Ben, 15, and Louise, 12, who were ushers and bridesmaids.
“It has been full on ever since this happened,” Alicia said. “We’ve been rushed off our feet and the phone hasn’t stopped going for two days. It has been very hectic. But the vicar has been wonderful, he’s still focused on us despite what he has lost. He’s been fantastic.”
Father-of-two Darren said: “We’re a bit shell-shocked. We didn’t think it was going to happen but we’ve done it. The day is finally here.”
In his address to the church, Rev Royston Such paid tribute to the couple for their courage to go on.
He said: “Today you are as one in marriage. From today onwards you don’t just seek what you want; you think always together of what we will do. The real goods of this life are not this – the building – but these the immortal soul which lives within each of us.”
He informed the congregation of the meeting held yesterday between The Friends of St Peters who decided fundraising would be crucial if the church were to be restored. Rev Such said Alicia had suggested to start a donation.
“Yesterday at the meeting I said I wanted to start a £1,000 pot,” he added. “The church really will need all the support it can get. The devastation is far worse than we thought. The big splendid organ; there’s no trace of it. Even the font has been sacked. I’m very grateful for Alicia’s suggestion.”
His wife, Rev Tana Riviere, said it is not yet known how the fire began and it will be some time before any plans can begin on restoring the church which, in some parts, is 800-years-old.
“It’s still under control of the fire officers and security guards for the moment,” she said. “The stone work is there, the wood work is charred and everything else has been gutted. It hasn’t been safe to go in there yet.
“There is great determination to fundraise and rebuild the church and it was discussed last night that it will not be its restoration, but its resurrection.
“When it’s eventually returned to us, architects and developers will have to assess what’s necessary but that’s a long way off yet. It will actually depend on the structure.
“What little we do know is that the medieval stonework is good. The Victorian work and some of the more modern work was not so sound.”