St. Mary's Deerhurst is unique in that it still retains much of its Anglo-Saxon origins making it an exceptional survival. The founding date is 800 AD, but building work is thought to have begun much earlier. First impressions of St.Mary's are deceptive as most of the original Anglo-Saxon church, apart from the tower, is hidden behind the clerestory perpendicular windows which sit above a long row of Tudor aisle windows.
Alongside the church sits Priory Farmhouse which occupies some of the domestic buildings that were once part of the medieval priory. The Saxon apse at the back of the church and to the side of the farmhouse is ruined, and excavation work carried out in that area has revealed Roman pottery indicating a high status Roman building. It, therefore, seems logical that the church was built on top of the Roman building and that bits of it were incorporated into the church.
River Severn indicated by black arrow
Some 1400 years ago Saxon's sailed up the River Severn which makes its way through these meadows, and founded a mission on this very spot. Others continued on up the river to Tewkesbury and Worcester. The name Tewkesbury comes from Theoc, a Saxon who founded a hermitage there in the C7th. In Worcester the Saxons took over an old Roman settlement by a ford in the River Severn. The Saxons called a Roman settlement a ceaster. They called this one Weogoran ceaster, meaning people of the winding river, eventually the name became Worcester. Worcester has one of our great cathedrals and Tewkesbury has a magnificent Abbey with the finest romanesque tower in the country.This is all that remains of the ruined apse, but behind the wall to the left is what is known as 'The Deerhurst Angel' a celebrated piece of Anglo-Saxon sculpture
The details in the head and wings of the angel are very similar to figures depicted in the Book of Cerne, a Mercurian manuscript circa 830 held in Cambridge University Library
On entering the church porch it pays to look up above the secondary entry door into the church
This limestone carving of the Virgin and Child is C9th. The central section with a shield carried by the Virgin would have contained a painted image of the Christ child. To my eye this has a contemporary feel about it reminding me of Eric Gill's work. I love the Virgin's tiny feet clinging to the ledge for support.
This font is as rare as 'hen's teeth'. It is the finest Saxon font in existence dating from the C9th, and was carved from a single block of limestone.
In 1653 when the front was 800 years old it was discarded, and disappeared for 200 years. It was rediscovered in 1843 on a local farm where it was being used as a drinking trough for cattle. The base was also rediscovered some 26 years later when it was found at a local Inn. The two parts were then happily married back together again where they now sit in the Baptistry. The spiral pattern is not just decorative but was designed to give protection from the devil, who it was thought was only capable of moving in straight lines. This iconography is widespread in several cultures - Celts, Norse and the early Christians.
On either side of the door leading into the church are two Saxon beasts. Local legend has it that they are representations of a mythical beast known as the 'Deerhurst Dragon'. If you look closely you can still see the remains of their original paintwork
The interior of the church is very light and bright mainly because most of the windows are plain glass. The blocked Saxon arch is the same arch that can be seen outside in the ruined apse
This is a section of stained glass from the only decorated window. It is C15th medieval glass and shows St. Alphege who was born in 953 and who began his monastic life in Deerhurst, where he is reputed to have found the regime too lax. He moved away to live near Bristol and became Abbot of Bath and then Bishop of Winchester. Later, as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was captured and ransomed by the Danes, but forbade the ransom and was killed in 1012. The church honoured the millennium of his martyrdom by creating a small chapel within the church below this window.
|The West wall of the Saxon tower showing numerous Saxon features - the Normans knocked out the nave walls to form side aisles, the present arcading is Early English|
I know of only one other church that has these unique Saxon triangular double opening windows
The North-West corner of the nave, formerly a side chapel, showing typical Anglo-Saxon herringbone masonry. The blocked doorway led to the apse
Details in the Early English Gothic arches