Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Priory Church of St Mary and St Hardulph

 The Priory church of St Mary and St Hardulph is somewhere that I have known from childhood. Dominating the landscape for miles around, it sits astride Breedon-on-the-Hill, straddling the borders between Derbyshire and Leicestershire. It's commanding postion attracts all passing attention as it must have done for centuries.
Indeed, it shares this high spot with a beacon belonging to the national chain 
 a quilted machine embroidered panel hanging inside the church
360º views from the church grounds
The church has undergone several reincarnations over the centuries, but bits of the original Saxon and Norman church can still be seen. However, the greatest treasures, which have luckily survived its many vicissitudes, are the Anglo Saxon sculptures inside - Anglo Saxon sculptures are as rare as hen's teeth.
Simon Jenkins in his book England's Thousand Best Churches says 'they are perhaps the most impressive English figure sculptures of their time' and they have been described as the stone equivalent of the Lindisfarne Gospels.


Originally this hilltop was home to an Iron Age Fort constructed in 300 BC, but evidence of Stone Age man has also been found here in the shape of a polished axe dated to 1000 BC. In 675 a Saxon Benedictine Monastery was built within the fort, but Danish raiders, who sailed up the river Trent, destroyed the monastery in the c9th.
As we approached the entrance door I felt a sudden panic thinking that the church might indeed be locked due to the treasures within, but with a gentle twist of the handle we found ourselves inside. 
Simon Jenkins suggests that this carving appears to show a leg descending, but I see it representing two amphoras of wine, a fish, and the box possibly contains the host (bread)!

Influences from Celtic art can clearly be seen in the curious stone carved animal figures
this lion like figure with an owlish face is known as the 'Anglian Beast'
is this a cheeky little devil peeping out from a joint in the masonry? 
A figure giving a Byzantine blessing and flanked on either side by saints
The one to the right has a rather comical pointed moustache and beard

These men appear to be swinging censers
Many of the friezes intertwined with vines, leaves, and scrolls would have decorated the outside of the original Saxon Monastery
Sadly the most beautiful of all the sculptures cannot be seen. It is high up in the church bell tower hidden behind a firmly locked door, but with the advent of modern technology in the form of 3D computer aided imaging an exact replica has recently been made using identical stone
A wonderful carving known as the 'Breedon Angel' -  considered to be Angel Gabriel - but why is he looking so glum! The use of the third finger and the thumb to give the blessing is of a Byzantine tradition as are the delicate folds of his gown.

38 comments:

  1. Lovely green of the trees.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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  2. Fascinating, Rosemary. I have never heard about the Byzantine blessing, but now I will know when I see it. The Saxon carving is wonderful to see, so ancient yet well preserved. Yes, a fish as you say; a descending leg would not make any sense. The reproduced Breedon Angel is gorgeous, and how wonderful they can do that. Here's to many more of such reproductions to preserve ancient artistic wonders.

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    1. Yes, Patricia, I knew the Breedon angel was hidden behind a locked door, but delighted to discover that this beautiful copy had been made with the use of modern technology - I did not feel as if I had missed out on it as I would have done if only a photograph or illustration had been available.

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  3. Fabulous, Rosemary. I have often passed this place but have been unable to stop. Not long ago, I made a real effort to get there to take a look round, but it was late afternoon and the door was firmly locked. So it's a joy to see your post - I must try again!

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing it Mike - I suddenly became apprehensive as to whether or not the door would be locked when we arrived but was very happy to find it open. I understand that the door is unlocked daily by volunteers, so you probably just missed being able to get in - go earlier next time if you can.

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  4. What a wonderful location, that view ! the colors .. the age of it all ... I am in love :)

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    1. Thank you lots - I am so pleased that you enjoyed the post♡

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  5. Wow, Rosemary, I have never seen anything like these carvings. I like the way the creatures stare right out at you. The friezes are also very attractive. Everything has an infinite amount of charm.
    --Jim

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    1. It is very fortunate Jim that someone had the foresight to save these Anglo Saxon stone treasures for future generations to savour and enjoy. They could easily have been thrown away and lost forever over so many hundreds of years.

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  6. Dear Rosemary, We are so fortunate to have you as our personal historian and photographer. In addition, one who will go to these most interesting places so that we can be the richer for your experience.
    These carvings are absolutely stunning and I think that you are correct in that the "leg" is a fish and the other objects are what you say they are.

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    1. Dear Gina - I am delighted that you found these rare little Anglo Saxon carvings stunning, and that you enjoyed the visit to this special church.

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  7. It's wonderful! Thank you for explaining the hand position. I'll have to put this church on our list of places to visit.

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    1. Hope you get the chance to visit one day when you are over.

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  8. I wonder how the Anglo-Saxon carvers gained all their knowledge of Byzantine imagery? Do you think they had personally travelled that far south? Or did the imagery make its way north through other means? Beautiful, in any event!

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    1. Hello Debra - it is considered most likely that some of the stone carvers would have travelled from the Continent, and that would explain their wider breadth of knowledge.

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  9. I guess I am surprised that they have survived since they seemed to be carved out of soft stone.

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    1. It is not a soft stone Janey - it probably looks as if it is because of being very weathered having spent hundreds of years on the outside of the Anglo Saxon Priory. It is good though that they are now protected and inside.

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  10. Absolutely intriguing. You were lucky to capture the rapeseed fields just like in the fabulous quilt.

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    1. Yes, I too thought that was a curious coincidence - a couple more weeks and the oilseed rape will be all over for the year.

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  11. Never seen so many detailed stone carvings from that period in one building before. Love the oil seed fields even though they are a mono crop- just that bright splash of yellow everywhere makes my heart sing.

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    1. The oilseed rape fields along with fantastic deep blue skies lit up the countryside on our travels last week, and yes, it made my heart sing too just to see and enjoy it for a brief period of time.

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  12. What a marvelous place - I'm intrigued by so many ancient treasures in one place. Thanks so much for taking us along Rosemary, it's a great history lesson of a place most of us will probably never be fortunate enough to visit.
    Your photos are fabulous - so clear. Very glad the door was unlocked and you could venture inside!
    I'll tell Italy you'll be on your way soon!
    Hugs - Mary

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    1. Will be thinking about you Mary on your travels - last year we were in Malta at about this time, and it must be four years ago now that we went to Sicily and fell in love with it.
      I love this little church perched high on top of the hill, and what a bonus that it holds such wonderful treasures too.

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  13. You really should write a guide book.

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    1. Ah! I am simply an amateur when it comes to things historic, but kind of you to say.

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  14. Lovely photos of a beautiful building, Rosemary, but love the views of the countryside best of all, they're stunning!
    Margaret P

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    1. I must agree with you Margaret, the views were great and my little camera loved them too.

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  15. I can only repeat what 'galant' said, what really caught my eye was the gorgeous view you got to see from the church !

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    1. At first I was disappointed in that photo as the lens concentrated on the near branches and made the landscape look fuzzy, but then I decided that it was OK as it complimented the quilted needlework. I am pleased that you liked it.

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  16. Your posts are always full of interesting information, and make me determined to one day return to the Cotswolds, as our visit last summer was all too short. I'm so glad the Anglo Saxon carvings have been preserved.
    Thank you for your comment about Joanna Trollope's birthplace. I was uncertain about whether the vicarage in which she was born is in your village, or if you actually live in the vicarage? I looked up Minchinhampton and saw that it is not far from Stroud, which we did visit.
    Back to this post - the views from the church are amazing and the fields of canola (rapeseed) are so colourful just now. Here in Canada, they have not been able to plant yet because of lingering cold and snow in the prairie provinces where it's grown.

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    1. Dear Lorrie - I am sorry if I misled you as this post is not from the Cotswolds but from the East Midlands area i.e Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire.
      The vicarage that Joanna was born in is in Minchinhampton - it is where Princess Anne has her estate too.
      The oilseed rape will soon be over, but it certainly brightens up the landscape for a couple of weeks each year.

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  17. Hello Rosemary,
    I am glad the church door was unlocked as you have given us a delightful report on all you saw. This is a real treasure.
    You had the perfect day to visit too. The image of the grape field is so brilliant.
    Hope your week is special

    Helen xx

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    1. Hello Helen - I was very relieved to find the door was unlocked as I hadn't even considered the fact that it might be until we arrived. It is a long time since I last visited the church so I was pleased to be reacquainted with it again.

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  18. Hello, Rosemary. I was happy you could go inside so that you could share these historical, wondrous assets. I was so interested in stone carved animal figures and Anglian Beast. I like to see imaginary creatures in each cultural background. I think “'Breedon Angel' is nice-looking even though he doesn’t look happy. I also enjoyed seeing the beautiful buildings and the fresh greenery special to this time of year.

    Yoko

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    1. Hello Yoko - I agree with you that this time of year is special when all the new leaves and flowers are looking so fresh and new - it is a time to enjoy, and a time to embrace all the beauty that surrounds us.

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  19. Rosemary, you always show us so beautiful places, as this very old church. And the photos are great. I love all these details, and also the landscape around. You have a lovely spring time now.

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    1. Hello Orvokki - I do hope that you are feeling better, and that soon you will be able to make your delayed visit to Switzerland. Spring is a lovely time of year.

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