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Dedication : All Saints   Simon Jenkins:  ***                                               Principal Features :  c8 Saxon Church

In the little village of Brixworth, just a few miles from Northampton, is one of the most important Romanesque churches in Europe.

Brixworth Church served a monastery that was founded here in 680 during the reign of King Offa of Mercia, probably on a different site and made of wood. This was likely to have been under the auspices of Medehamsted Abbey (modern Peterborough). The present church dates from AD750-850. The monastery was destroyed by the Vikings in 870 and the church ruined but not destroyed. Reconstruction took place in 960-970.

The nave shows on both sides clear evidence of archways to what were originally “porticuses” - side chapels (such as existed also at Deerhurst). It is believed that on the north side that these separated from each other by walls, but excavations suggest this was not the case on the south side. These were removed in the 960-70 rebuilding, the arches through to the nave were filled in  and the clerestory windows we see today were added. The filled in arches still show the Roman brickwork that the Saxon builders had re-used!

The nave is entirely Saxon  in construction. At the west end the doorway would have led into the narthex - an entrance porch in which much church business and ceremonies would have been carried out. The narthex became the base of the current tower. The tower stair turret was added in c11. Also in the west

wall is a filled in doorway that may have led to an internal gallery - again, Deerhurst in Gloucestershire is believed to have had a similar arrangement. The triple arch was added in the eleventh century..

The original church had a wall between nave and chancel with 2 arches and three doorways.  It is believed that Brixworth may have been the first church to “screen” the chancel from the nave. The present chancel arch is c14 but the remnants of the original side arches can still be seen. These side arches led to a covered  ambulatory below the level of but surrounding the original apse in which a holy relic may well have been kept.  There is nothing remaining of the crypt to which this ambulatory would originally have led.

Today’s apse is polygonal externally and semi-circular within and was rebuilt in c19. In fact this was an act of restoration because the original apse had been replaced by a later rectangular chancel. The church on the north side is slightly disfigured by the addition of more modern windows, the westernmost from c14 and the easternmost from the 1863 alterations. There are still, however, Saxon clerestory windows on both sides of the church. There is a c13 Lady Chapel on the south side..

Brixworth is a simple church, uncluttered by modern “additions” and, mercifully, treated kindly by the Victorians. People have prayed here for 1300 years. This church is one of England’s most important and to visit it is to be transported back to the turbulent times when British Christianity was still in its early convulsions.

Left: Looking east towards chancel and apse. The huge arches to left and and right - with reclaimed Roman terracotta brickwork - were to the porticus side chapels that originally lined this church. The chancel arch replaced the old Saxon wall but you can see the remnants of Saxon arches. Right: Looking towards the west. As with the west wall of Deerhurst Church, this is one of the most famous views in English church architecture. The Saxon gallery arch has been filled in and surmounted by a triple c11 Norman opening. The west door would originally have led to the narthex but now leads to the tower which was built on and over it.

Left: The apse’s “triumphal arch”  with the original Saxon arch and side windows. The apse itself was rebuilt in the nineteenth century. On the bottom left and right of the wall are the filled in doorways to the ambulatory. Right: The three-light Norman “window” in the west wall. The shafts are more finely-carved than would have been the case with Saxon arches.

Left: This little Saxon door nestles on the south side of the tower. Note the Saxon “herringbone” masonry course above it and the tower stair turret to the left. Right: This blocked doorway on the north side of the apse led down to the ambulatory.

Left: This is the “Brixworth Eagle of St John”. Taken from a Saxon cross-shaft, it rests by the south door protected by a perspex sheet. Centre: The tower stair turret from the west. The limit of the original saxon work in the base of the tower is clearly marked by the string course. Right: The stair turret is eleventh century, a little later than the tower itself. The herringbone visible here in courses right up to the flagpole indicate that it is Saxon rather than Norman.

Left: The north side showing three clerestory windows and four porticus arches. The porticuses would have had gabled roofs, joined together to form a kind of saw tooth configuration. The original clerestory windows were smaller and would have peeped out in the spaces between the “teeth”. The ones we see today are larger and date from the the removal of the porticuses in AD 970. Right: The south side. The westernmost porticus arch has a rather plain late eleventh century Norman doorway  built into it. There was also a porch dating from about 1200 but it was removed in the nineteenth century. To the right can be seen the thirteenth century lady chapel.

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