Tours > Gloucester > Deerhurst A Village with Two Saxon Churches!|
Deerhurst A Village with Two Saxon Churches!
Directions: Carry on past the Abbey and out of the Tewkesbury down the A38 south towards Gloucester. About three miles on, turn right on the B4213 and follow signs to Deerhurst.
is a tiny little village, remarkable in
that within it stand, not one, but two
Saxon places of worship. First you
approach the parish church of St. Mary in
the centre of the village, a large
towered building alongside a picturesque
farmhouse. At first glance, it looks a
typical medieval building with several
windows added in the Tudor period. The
church was part of a priory complex.
There was a cloister to the south and the
present farmhouse was part of the
surrounding monastic buildings, probably
the monks' dormitory. It is still
actually joined to the church. The tower
appears quite plain from a distance, but
walk round to the main west door and
examine it more closely. The church's
ancient origins soon become obvious.
Herringbone masonry, crude animal head
busts and a high doorway opening into
nowhere for relic display: Deerhurst is
one of the finest remaining Saxon
Churches in the country. If you walk all
around the church to the eastern end,
there is further evidence of Saxon work
with the remains of a polygonal ninth
century apse. It is adorned, on the south
side, with a beautiful angel carving: the
last of a series of decorative panels that demonstrate the
quality of embellishments lavished on
this important building.
known of the history of the place.
Architecturally, it appears to have been
established in the late seventh century, but
there are no records of its existence
before 804. That year, Aethelric, son of
Earl Aethelmund of Hwicce (a Saxon
sub-kingdom covering this area) granted
the priory a very large area of land and
made known his desire to be buried there.
It has been suggested that the priory was
always the main church of the Hwicce and
that there Kings were traditionally
buried here. It was certainly the scene
of important political events like the
1016 signing of the treaty between Kings Edmund
Ironside and Canute which divided
England in two.
It is the
church itself which tells us most about
the building's story. It started as a
rectangular building with a western porch
in the late seventh century. A circular apse
and side chapels were added early the
following century. In the 9th century the
apse was rebuilt as a polygon and
individual chapels extended all the way
down both sides. The 10th century saw the
western porch extended to form a tower
and it is from here that you enter St.
the wall opposite, there is an early
carving of the Virgin and Child with
traces of its original paintwork still
intact. It may have come from the ruined
apse. As you move forward towards the
nave, turn to examine the very fine
wolf-head dripstone terminals either side
of the doorway. They were very sensibly
moved here from the outside wall in 1860
to protect them from the ravages of the
British weather. There are further Saxon
wolf-heads either side of the altar. In
puritan times, this was placed centrally
in the church, hence the survival of the
unique pew arrangement at the eastern end
of the building. The main features of the
nave are the exceptional examples of
Early English arcading with delightfully
carved corbels and capitals, but turn
again and look up at the western church
wall for more Saxon details. The highest
feature is a possible dedication stone.
Below this sits what is said to be the
"finest, most elaborate opening in
any Saxon Church": certainly an
excellent example of Saxon pointed
windows. Then there is a bizarre
triangular window next to a small Saxon
doorway which opened onto a western
gallery. The old Saxon building was
largely based on two storeys. On the
ground-floor is a good Saxon archway.
and south aisles house further treasures.
The western window of the latter has what
remains of the church's impressive array
of old glass. St. Catherine is easily
identified with her famous wheel. She
dates from around 1300. Accompanying her
is a mid 15th century depiction of St.
Alphege, an 11th century monk from the
priory who rose to be Archbishop of
Canterbury and was martyred by the Danes.
There are also arms of the De Clare Lords
of Tewkesbury, kneeling members of the De
Hautville family and 'Suns-in-Splendour'
indicating the parish's Yorkist
sympathies during the Wars of the Roses.
In the north aisle is the superb ninth
century font, rescued last century from a
farmyard. It shows heavy Welsh influence
being decorated mainly with so-called
Celtic Trumpet Spirals. The Strickland
memorial window nearby shows the family's
turkey crest. An ancestor is said to have
accompanied the Cabots to America and
introduced the bird to Britain on their
return. Further east are the handsome
brasses of the Cassey family from
Wightfield Manor. Sir John was Chief Lord
of the Exchequer in the late 14th century, but it is
the little dog at the feet of his wife
which draws attention. It is obviously
the depiction of a specific family pet,
for he is named as 'Terri': the only
example of a named animal on any memorial
brass. The walls of the church in this
area were stripped in 1973 to show the
Saxon stonework. They give a fascinating
insight into the building's original
form, showing two of the doorways to the
numerous side chapels or 'portici' and
holes for the wooden Saxon scaffolding!
Next Stop: Odda's