It was either going to be spectacular… or very plain. Probably the latter, as we have found that with the highly decorated churches, it tends to be one or the other, inside or out. It was, then, no surprise to open the door to a calm and simple interior full of soft light. Except… well, the font was pretty spectacular in its own way. The huge bowl dates back to a time when baptism involved more than a trickle of holy water on the brow. It still had the place for the locks too… once upon a time, holy water could be stolen for purposes more akin to sorcery than religion. And it was older than the church… much older in fact and may have belonged to a previous, Saxon church on the site, making it well over a thousand years that it has been used within the community. It used to stand under the chancel arch, with the Devil’s Door to the north so the devil could escape the touch of baptismal water.
It is a beautiful church, its simplicity and serenity untouched by time and the passing of countless feet. But its simplicity is deceptive, for on closer inspection, it begins to yield its treasures.
It is built as a three-cell church, with nave, chancel and an unusual semicircular apse. The chancel arches and ribs are of the same red sandstone as the exterior and the carvings are just as well preserved. The arch itself is decorated simply, with typical Norman geometric patterns.
The capitals of the columns are carved with the ‘True Vine’ that represents Jesus as the Son of God. The vine bears fruit and is the same pattern as the latticework carved on the west window and the foliage coming from the mouths of the Green Men. The symbolism of life and rebirth is obvious and harks back to even older faiths. Even in Egypt, Osiris was depicted as green.
Beneath the capitals are carved figures of saints. While some look like ecclesiastics, and one holds a key so is presumably St Peter, the others remain unidentified.
The inspiration for the arch is thought to have been taken from the Silversmiths’ Gate at Santiago de Compostela, one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage. The figures are curious. The bottom two appear to be tonsured monks and are smaller than the saints. In many ancient cultures… like the Egyptian and mediaeval paintings that we can still see so clearly… importance was denoted by relative size. I have to wonder if here the carvings are not reminding the congregation that the exoteric Church is of less importance than the saints it ‘supports’… that the earthly Church is less than Divinity. A reminder of humility, at a time when the priesthood held much power in the land.
Beyond the arch stands a very curious holy water stoup that would have once stood at the doors of the church for the congregation. It was brought from a chapel in the nearby Forest of Treville, near Wormbridge… a name to conjure with, given the plethora of dragons here… and is older even than the font.
A bowl upon an inverted bowl, with hands resting as if upon a pregnant belly. A girdle beneath the belly has four serpents heads hanging from it. It is not Norman. It is probably not even Saxon, but may to be even older than that. You have to ask yourself, given the symbolism, if it was ever a Christian piece to begin with…
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