Sunday, 24 January 2010

A little Norman church

Westwell is a sublime village at a halfway point on one of our walks. A few days ago we were taking somewhat reluctant exercise, the day being bitterly raw and generally drab. It seemed a good time to explore the little church of St Mary's, which - if your eye follows the winding track upwards behind the middle willow - is tucked away to the side of the green. Up the path, past the Narnia lamp post...
...past leaning, lichened gravestones...
To the porch, a later addition to the older building, which is recorded in
the Doomsday Book, of 1066 - although it is certain that there was a church on this plot long before that date.
Inside the porch, a niche, with recent graffiti - useful for future historians, the abbreviation of *Daz* pinpointing the numpty who carved it to the late 20th/early 21st century. Maybe it will improve with age. These niches were often fonts or stoups which would have held holy water. This one is actually a 12th century
Piscina which was moved from inside the church, to accommodate a large tomb. As a Piscina is a kind of rudimentary sink, with a drainage hole, they must have had to put a bowl in the niche to hold the holy water.
The inner door, with its double Chevron arch, (showing its Norman/French origin) was originally the outside door, before the addition of this porch. In the centre (or tympanum) is carved a faint dial -you can just see the little hole, where a wooden peg would have been placed. The porch is south facing, and the dial - or 'mass clock' - would have indicated to the villagers exactly when services were. There is a better example (and explanation)
here, concerning what is thought to be the largest mass dial in the country at Badsey in the nearby county of Worcestershire. In my researches, this site dedicated to Cotswold sundials, tells me that this one is Saxon.
Inside, is a small, plain interior - but utterly charming.
- with a simple font situated at the back, behind the pews.
Incredibly, the roof timbers are the original Norman structures, which makes them nearly 1,000 years old.
There is little stained glass here - these fragments are what remain of a memorial window installed - naturally - by sheep farmers in the 16th century. Sheep were once the mainstay of the Cotswolds, and it is still a major farming activity even now. Many of our churches, large and small, have benefited from the wool trade, at its height round about when these window scraps were originally created - what a magnificent, richly coloured sight it must have been in its entirety.
Look - someone has forgotten his hat and gloves! They will be safe here, and still be waiting when the gentlemen returns. Assuming he can remember where he left them; it's a chilly day and he will need them.
Another Mediaeval feature, a stone head, described in the church pamphlet as a 'sad queen'...but I think she is more enigmatic than sad -is that a smile twitching her lips?

Despite the damp cold, spring is making tentative efforts to be seen. The graveyard is scattered with the happy sight of snowdrops and we know that the year is turning again.
Leaving the church grounds and looking out across the pond -
We make our way around to the next lap of our walk, on to another village and another story, one day. On a lane we stop to locate home. There it is, on the farthest horizon; a blue hummock where a large beech grove stands about a mile from our own little patch.
There - it's not that far really, as the crow flies.

I am, as usual, indebted for my facts to the little plastic folder of information, examples of which are usually found in our country churches, carefully compiled by those who love them.


  1. There's pouring rain outside, a wet, sleepy dog at my feet ... and what a wonderful wander in the Cotswold countryside. Thank-you.

  2. I shall be coming to Empshill by Farmington in Northleach before too long - are you too busy to meet?

  3. Lovely text, lovelier photos. I've always liked the look of old churchyards, with the stones leaning... it always looks as though they're huddling together for warmth, or perhaps just to gossip.

  4. What a glorious walk & oh the amazing colours.
    Want it here, now.

  5. What a stunning church. I agree with you about the queen's head - a little wry, enigmatic, pensive and amused. Lovely.

  6. I love to explore your countryside with you. You photos are so appreciated...seeing things I would never get to see, like the beautiful old churches. I live next to an old church and cemetery, but no where near as old and beautiful as yours.

  7. You have given us a real treat with this post. Just the feeling of walking up that walkway, seeing the church yard, then slowly entering the beauty of the church itself, was so clear from your words and photographs.

    I know that had I been fortunate enough to actually be in that place, my eyes would have filled with tears. I just know it. Certain places really do touch some very sensitive part of my heart and mind.

    Thank you, once again, for your generosity. xo

  8. This is a wonderful p[ost, what a beautiful unspoilt little church. Oddly enough I have ancestors from Badsey in Worcestershire, the village website is a real treasure isn't it?

  9. With all your spare time you should be a tour guide! Great story!

  10. Love the rusty branches in your first photo and the interior of the little church is beautiful and so serene. I can just imagine a romantic candle lighted wedding take me back to another time Gretel and for that I say "thank you"

  11. A beautiful church, especially the window with the queen's head. I've traced my ancestors on one side of the family to sheep farmers in the Cotswolds, so very interesting, thank you!

  12. The sad-faced queen is interesting. If you cover one half of her face, she's smiling; the other half and she's looking rather stern and almost masculine! I wonder what the story is with that face?

  13. On my list of things to do one day go church exploring with you.

  14. Wow...this is gorgeous. I bet it is beautiful in the snow!


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