Romanesque font, Avebury

Romanesque font, Avebury

The church of St James, Avebury, Wiltshire, is an old one, with a nave that is part Saxon. It dates from around 1000AD and has had Norman aisles added to the original struture (there are still two Saxon windows high up in the nave). You could say that Christianity was the minor religion of this tiny village at the time the church was founded, as it is likely that veneration of the nearby massive stone circles continued for some time.

In the church is a splendid example of a tub font, which would have originally been plain, but has been carved in the Romanesque style. There is great debate on the dating of this font, with some authorities giving an estimate of the 12th century, and others a date of 880-890. I think that the carving may have been added during the 12th century, to the much earlier plain font. The carved wooden font cover is very pleasing, and is dates from 1941, the very darkest period of World War Two.

The design appears to be composed of flowing elements, including the figure of a bishop; he is carrying a crosier, and is either being attacked by two wyverns, or is treading on their heads! Some say that the animals are dragons, but the use of wyverns would be most appropriate, as that mythical beast is the symbol often used for Wessex, in which this church stands. It could be that this represents the church’s triumph over the primitive religion of the stone circles, which are very close at hand.

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