Much Cowarne, St Mary's Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 1617 Edmund Fox table tomb and 1275 Pauncefot effigy
There are several fascinating monuments in the light-filled south aisle. Set against the wall is a very worn and battered effigy of a 13th century knight, wearing a long surcoat and mail armour, holding a shield on which you can make out the shape of a lion. The edge of the knight's grave slab is decorated with small shields. An informational panel inside the church tentatively identifies the knight as Grimbaldus (or Grimbald) Pauncefot, Lord of the Manor at Much Cowarne.
Pauncefot fought in the Seventh Crusade (1249-1254) and was captured by the Moorish leader (the Saladin, not to be confused with the 12th century leader who fought Richard the Lionheart!). According to the rather gruesome tale, Saladin told Pauncefot he would only release him if he received 'a joint of his wife' as ransom. The demand was relayed to the knight's wife Constantia back in England, who immediately sent for a surgeon from Gloucester Priory to cut off her hand. The severed hand was sent to Saladin and Sir Grimbaldus was released as promised. Sir Grimbald and Lady Constantia were buried together in the south aisle and a monument erected over their graves.
Next to the Grimbaldus effigy stands a wonderful table tomb to Edmund Fox (d. 1617) and his wife Anne, of Leighton Court. Fox was the son of Charles Fox, who served as Secretary to the Council of the Marches, the late 16th century governing body of the border region. Around the base of the table are their ten children, 3 sons and 7 daughters, arrayed in pious, kneeling poses. The detail of the effigy costumes is marvellous, but the tomb tells a poignant and tragic story, for at the couple's feet is a carving showing 3 small babies in a cradle, indicating stillborn babies or infant deaths.
Composer Edward Elgar stopped at Much Cowarne church on one the cycling trips of which he was so fond, and a plaque near the door remembers his visit. There is also a fascinating display against the west wall detailing the disastrous fire in 1840 and subsequent efforts to restore the church, including reproductions of contemporary newspaper reports and historic photographs. It is a wonderful slice of local history! Restoration took over 30 years, and was not complete until 1871. One of the bell-wheels from the 1845 restoration is on display.
In the churchyard, south of the chancel, is the base and lower section of a medieval cross, thought to be 14th or 15th century. It is thought that the top of the cross was destroyed by Parliamentary troops during the Civil War, possibly Scottish auxiliaries under the Earl of Leven.
St Mary's is a delightful church to visit. There is so much to see, and I've seldom visited a church that had so much information available for visitors.
About Much Cowarne
Address: Church Lane, Much Cowarne, Herefordshire, England, HR7 4JQ
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: Behind a working farm at the end of Church Lane. On site parking. Signposted. Usually open daylight hours.
Website: Much Cowarne
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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Nearest Accommodation to Much Cowarne: