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Avebury

Dedication : St James  Simon Jenkins: *                                                      Principal Features : Saxon and Norman features. Norman Tub Font. Location.  

When you are visiting the incredible Stone Circles at Avebury, perhaps also taking in Silbury Hill and West Kennett Long Barrow, you can be forgiven for paying no attention to the somewhat run-of-the mill looking church nearby. I know because I’ve done it too! Avebury Church, however, deserves better.

The earliest parts date from AD1000. The Saxons feared the magical powers of the stone circles and were careful to site their church near to them in order to counteract their supposed malevolence. Originally there were no aisles. The north wall of the nave was also one of the outer walls of the Saxon church. At the west end of the nave there are two of the original windows; at the top of this wall are three original round clerestory windows. Around them are rings of holes that originally held wattle rods used in their construction. At the west end of the North aisle there are some remains of the original Saxon wall.

Aisles were added in the c12 in the Norman style. The nave walls were pierced by arcades of two arches on each side. Wider aisles were built in c15 and the Norman south door was moved to its existing position. The tower was added at that time. The arcades were themselves replaced during the Victorian era, but we can still see some remnants of the originals.

There is a large and impressive Norman tub font. The top half features two serpents with their heads turned towards a bishop holding a crozier. The lower half has a pattern of blind arcading. The carving is somewhat crude

and it is worth comparing it with the “best of breed” Norman fonts at churches such as Eardisley and Chaddesley Corbett. Quality varied considerably in Norman times as it does today! The chancel was added in c13. The c14 rood loft is a splendid and rare survivor c15 of the Reformation. Set into the wall of the porch is a remnant of a Norman carving.

I would not claim Avebury as a gem of architecture. Ancient as parts of it are, its age pales into insignificance against the 5000 years of the stone circles, yet it is worth a short detour from your Neolithic and Iron Age itinerary.

The Norman south door is the first clue that Avebury Church has more of interest than immediately meets the eye.

The font sits at the west end of the nave. The arcades are c15. In the background is the superb rood loft. Note, however, that the screen below it is Victorian!

The Norman tub font, designed for total immersion..

The bishop and his crozier are crudely drawn, and note the assymetry of the recurring blind arcading motif below. As can be seen above, the serpents are little more sophisticated. Crude as this font is, its pagan influences seem totally in keeping with the atmosphere of this remarkable site.

Looking towards the north aisle through the c15 arcades from the west door, we can see the surviving circular openings of the Saxon clerestory. The smaller holes which surround them are clearly visible. Lower left is a survivingSaxon window opening that would have originally been on the external wall of the church.

The c13 chancel.

The reverse of the Saxon window in the picture left.

c12 Norman stone inside the porch.