Friday, January 9, 2009

Deerhurst, Gloucestershire


Saxon Severnside

This is the other Saxon church at Deerhurst, to which I referred in the previous post. It’s now the parish church of St Mary, though it began life as a Saxon minster, becoming a Benedictine priory a few years before the Norman conquest. The building has been much altered over the centuries, and architectural historians have traced many phases of construction, including several in the Saxon period as the church grew form a small, narrow building without a tower to the larger, wider structure, with its tall west tower, that we see today. The tower is a real local landmark, visible from a long way across the low-lying Severnside country.

From the outside, the building doesn’t look that much like a Saxon church, because most of the windows are late-medieval. But many of the walls they pierce are Saxon, and inside there are the outlines of numerous earlier blocked window openings that allow one to imagine what the building must once have been like.

The interior is full of fascinating details from the Saxon period and later. Here are just a couple, first a detail of the carved design on the font. This kind of spiral motif also appears on English manuscripts of the 9th century and before, and Anglo-Saxon jewellery of the same period, leading experts to date the font to before 875. I once read that it had disappeared for years before being found in a farmyard in use as a trough, but I’ve been unable to verify this story.

There are several other outstanding pieces of Saxon carving in the church, including an angel, a Madonna, and this animal head projecting from a wall at the west end. Those incised lines reveal a sure touch, as does the way the stone is slightly asymmetrical, in sensitive and lifelike counterpoint to the stylized lines. This may have been a remote, provincial church, but a thousand years or more ago it played host to some fine artists.

7 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

Just love that exterior shot.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Good on you, Peter. Wonderful what one can do with some shadow, blue sky, and a couple of fluffy white clouds, eh? With a rather good building thrown in, of course.

Ron Combo said...

Seeing all that simple beauty and craft makes me want to weep for today's Church of Ingerland. Smashing post, thank you.

Thud said...

The animal head has a much earlier feel,an almost pre saxon look or a surviving celtic influence?

Neil said...

I absolutely love this animal head (which could be be either Saxon, Celtic, modernist, or, let's face it, absolutely contemporary and up-to-the-minute. But it's interesting we have to refer to it as an animal head. What is it? A cow is my best bet.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, if someone came along and told me the head was Romano-British, I wouldn't be that surprised.

Neil: I suppose it's a cow, yes.

potok said...

When I was at university (a long time ago) my wonderful tutor suggested I read up on Deerhurst church. This being a history degree rather than an architectural one, her reason for doing so was to look at influences. What I discovered was the influence of a French monastic order(can't remember which - Cluny?) This was reflected in the design of the church. The point being that the River Severn and Bristol Channel gave a direct route to France. Anyway food for thought and further research