Baunton, Gloucestershire, St Mary Magdalene Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Superb medieval wall painting
- Norman wall painting
- Medieval altar cloth
The church of St Mary Magdalene was built around 1150 by the monks of Cirencester Abbey. The Abbot of Cirencester was also the lord of the manor at Baunton, and the monks cultivated land here. The abbey retained ownership of the Baunton estate until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The church has undergone few changes over the centuries and retains much of its Norman character. There is a plain Norman arch leading to a simple chancel, where a 13th century window was inserted in the north wall. And it needs to be there, for Baunton, quite unusually, has no east window behind the altar. I'm hard-put to think of another parish church without an east window! The helpful church guide pamphlet suggests there are 5 such churches in Gloucestershire.
A much worn 12th century piscina stands to the south of the altar. Behind the altar itself is a 15th century reredos which was originally part of the rood screen. The pulpit dates from the Jacobean period and has several nicely carved panels. There is a plain 16-sided font bowl, dated to the early 16th century, which stands atop the original Norman font base.
MEDIEVAL ALTAR FRONTAL
In a display case on the south wall, opposite the St Christopher wall painting, is a long 15th century altar frontal, protected in a glass case and covered by curtains to shield the sensitive cloth from the light. The frontal cloth is complete and original, consisting of alternate panels of yellow and brown damask material. The centre of the cloth shows a Rood, with figures of St John and St Mary made with metal and silk thread. Stitched into the design is a rebus (a medieval visual pun). This shows an eagle (the symbol of St John), an ass, and a barrel, or tun. Together these symbols represent the name of John As[h]ton, presumably the patron who paid for the creation of the frontal cloth.
THE BAUNTON WALL PAINTING
Facts and Figures:
- The painting was made sometime in the 14th century
- It measures 388cm high and 300cm wide
St Christopher was the patron saint of travellers in the medieval period. A figure of the saint carrying the Christ child across a river was often painted opposite the church door, where it would be seen by people entering or leaving the church. A popular belief suggested that if you saw an image of St Christopher you would not die that day.
St Christopher was often represented larger than life, partly because the original St Christopher was a giant, named Reprobus before his conversion to Christianity.
As is typical in St Christopher figures, the saint is shown facing east, holding a long staff in both hands. He is wearing a red cloak and a tunic of dark green. The Christ child sits, without aid, on the saint's shoulder, carrying an orb.
The really fascinating part of the Baunton St Christopher - apart from its remarkable state of preservation - is the array of symbolic elements in the background. There is a hermit with a lantern, his cell shown as a church. A boy fishing is thought to represent Satan, who is 'fishing' for souls. A mermaid represents Pride, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. In the background is an indistinct windmill, representing Sloth.
Address: Baunton, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, England, GL7 7DH
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: Just off the A417 or A435 north of Cirencester. Usually open daylight hours.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Cirencester Norman Arch - 1.3 miles (Historic Building)
Bagendon, St Margaret's Church - 1.4 miles (Historic Church)
Cirencester Roman Wall - 1.5 miles (Roman Site)
Corinium Museum - 1.6 miles (Museum)
Cirencester Park - 1.6 miles (Garden)
Cirencester, St John the Baptist - 1.6 miles (Historic Church)
Daglingworth, Holy Rood Church - 1.8 miles (Historic Church)
Cerney House Gardens - 2 miles (Garden)
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