Wednesday, October 31, 2007

St Laurence, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

While we’re on the subject of Anglo-Saxon buildings, here’s one more Saxon church, the remarkably well preserved St Laurence, Bradford-on-Avon. Its date is uncertain. Documentary sources refer to a church in Bradford as early as the 8th century, but St Laurence’s looks more like a 10th or 11th-century building, and the best guess is that it was built in 1001 to house the relics of Edward the Martyr, who had been killed at Corfe, Dorset, in 978. Edward’s remains were originally kept at Shaftesbury Abbey, but scholars think they were moved to Bradford in 1001, possibly because this was a site less vulnerable to Viking raids, possibly to remind those who venerated the Northumbrian martyr Oswald (whose shrine was also in the region, at Gloucester) or the Mercian Saint Kenelm (whose remains were at Winchcombe) that there was also a Wessex martyr who was worthy of veneration.

This little building was no longer a church in the 18th century. It became a workshop, and then was converted for use as a schoolroom and cottage. But it was ‘rediscovered’ by a Victorian clergyman and restored, and has survived its first millennium in very well. Its tall, narrow proportions, tiny windows, and narrow, round-headed doorways are all typical of Anglo-Saxon buildings. So is the way the walls are decorated with narrow strips of stone, called pilaster strips, forming a series of arch-shaped panels.

The interior is small, plain, and rather magical. High up on one wall are two carved stone angels, beautiful pieces of relief carving that may have originally formed part of a crucifixion scene, a fitting climax to a remarkable building. You can read more about its archaeology, history, and architecture here.

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