Norman Carvings

Tucked away down the pretty narrow country lanes of Herefordshire, and close to the Welsh border is the remarkable little church of St.Mary & St.David, Kilpeck. It is home to the finest collection of Romanesque sculpture in England carved out of red sandstone.

 

Built in approximately 1140 it has survived almost intact and unaltered to the present day. 

Its sculptures somehow survived the iconoclasm of both the Reformation and the Civil War, and the interior escaped major Victorian renovations.


The magnificent south door showing the Tree of Life in the tympanum. Around this are two orders of arches, the inner arch being the earlier and more interesting. Some of the figures are from The Bestiary, a popular medieval guide in which real and mythical beasts are used to represent moral teachings. The right-hand pillar has a capital representing a Green Man figure.

Inner arch over the south door showing an angel and mythical beasts in the outer arch.

 The Green Man with leaves spewing from his mouth

Snakes, tail of one in the mouth of the other. This may represent new life since the snake is reborn by shedding its skin each year. The snake also represents healing through the virtues of it venom.

A Hound and a Hare

The entire exterior roof line around the church is decorated with carved corbels, originally 89 in total. A few are missing, but most are intact and in excellent condition. It is generally presumed that they were intended to teach lessons to medieval man. Some were probably suggested by Hugh de Kilpeck founder of the church. Many seem to be simply entertaining or the ideas of the individual carvers.

The church is famous for its Sheela-na-gig, an ‘exhibitionist’ figure which can be seen on numerous other churches of the same period. Interpretations are many, and include: the unattractiveness of lust, a Celtic fertility symbol, or a goddess. 


Two heads from the interior of the nave – a Ram and a Lion.

An extraordinary ancient holy water stoup, with hands around a pregnant belly.This originally stood by the door, where worshippers would have ritually washed before entering the church. It is much older than the church and is even considered to be pre-Saxon.

all images via wikipedia

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15 comments

  1. This is fascinating!

    1. Thank you, I am pleased that you found the post of interest.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful photos and story. I spent some time in Wales and England years ago and cannot believe I missed something so lovely

    1. It is situated off the beaten track down deep narrow country lanes. If you travel over again, maybe you will have the opportunity to seek it out.

    1. Pleased you enjoyed it.

  3. I love the old stoup, but then again I like the carvings… and the old door… and the building in fact! Really interesting post, this… thank you!

    1. I love the stoup too, it has a naive quality to its design. Glad you enjoyed seeing it.

  4. What a joy! I must go to see Kilpeck. The carving is just beautiful, and the stories must just ooze out of the stone! Thank you, Rosemary. You are always teaching me something new.

    1. Kate, you are the one with all of the knowledge.

  5. This is wonderful. The hare and hound look like something a contemporary cartoonist would do. Thank you.

    1. It is hard to believe that they are nearly 900 years old. They are very endearing.

  6. It was such a pleasure to get the notice for this post in my emailbox! While I never managed to get to Kilpeck when I lived in England back in the 1980s, I’d heard of it and always wished to see what the carvings looked like. Thank you so much for sharing the photographs and commentary about the place. It’s wonderful that it has survived for so long without being destroyed or changed to meet more “modern” architectural styles. The fact that it is so far off the beaten path has obviously been a good thing for it! 🙂

    I do enjoy your posts. They remind me of the places I enjoyed while living in England, and bring back a lot of great memories as well as help me plan for places to go if I ever manage to return there. Thank you!

    1. That is a generous comment – thank you very much. It is encouraging to know that you are enjoying the posts so much.
      Unfortunately I am not very well acquainted with WordPress, my own blog in on blogspot. I place the photos on the post in a decent sized format and they are turned smaller by wordpress. Sorry about that.

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