Our penultimate church was in Batcombe… these days a small and straggling hamlet, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There has been a church on the site of St Mary Magdalene for nigh a thousand years and very possibly more. It stands in a green valley, far from enough people to make a congregation seem barely feasible.
The church boasts a tower taller, in proportion to the rest of the single-celled building, than many grander churches we have seen. Indeed, the first impression you get when you arrive is of the height of the tower and the isolated beauty in which it stands.
The church is a simple one, with the main entrance still being through the base of the fifteenth century tower, and leading to a nave and chancel. It is a long, narrow building and lacks both ornamentation and stained glass. It is vaguely unkempt, appears almost abandoned… and yet it has a curiously tranquillity and a welcoming feel. Of all the churches we visited, this was the one where I felt most at home.
Outside, there is a warmth about the stone and the simplicity of the doorway is inviting. There are gargoyles watching from the four corners of the tower and a pair of heads flank the door.
An odd shield-shaped marking…perhaps a mason’s mark… looks rather like a smiling face, positioned close to the door. Around the corner, a fragment of pre-Norman masonry hides amongst the flints on one of the buttresses, suggesting the presence of a Saxon church on the spot, long before the Normans arrived and began building the churches we appreciate so much as repositories of art and local history.
All in all, it is an inviting place. Once inside, the air is cool and ‘clean’ in some indefinable way. The tower walls hold a handful of memorials that show a little of the history of the community.
I was particularly taken by the elaborate border of one memorial that combines an angel with fruits, foliage and a skull, as well as the rather startled-looking skull on another that has an almost cartoon-like feel.
The font stands at the back of the church, where the tower meets the nave, and is a curious affair. It has a Norman column with a curvaceous yet cube-shaped limestone basin which is older than the pedestal upon which it stands. There are circles inscribed on the sides of the basin, looking very much like those odd consecration crosses we had found earlier at Cerne Abbas.
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