St James church, Avebury
St James church, Avebury
This exceptional church stands beside Avebury Manor, a stone's throw from the great henge and standing stones that draw thousands of visitors to Avebury each year.

The church dates to around the year 1000 AD, and still has its tall, narrow Saxon nave, though this was later altered by the Normans, who also added aisles in the 12th century.
The most obvious survivors of the Saxon building are a pair of round-headed windows at ground level and four circular porthole windows at second-storey level. The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century, and the chancel arch dates from this time. Separating the chancel from the nave is an original 15th century rood loft. The rood itself was destroyed at the Reformation, and the base of the screen is Victorian, but the rest is original.
15th century rood screen
The 15th century restored rood screen
A Hidden Secret
How did Avebury manage to keep its rood screen after Elizabeth I ordered all such screens to be destroyed in 1561? Apparently the parishioners disassembled the screen and carefully hid the timbers behind a false wall of lath and plaster against the east wall of the nave. If the deception had been discovered the perpetrators would have been in serious trouble, but the screen timbers remained hidden until they were found by accident in 1810. The loft was restored in 1878-84, and repainted in its original colours.
The chancel was heavily restored in the Victorian period, but when work was being carried on the new chancel, foundations of the Saxon chancel were found two feet below the present floor level. On the south wall is a memorial to John Trusloe (d. 1593), and the choir stalls are made from the 17th century Trusloe family pew.

A Saxon string course runs along the top of the aisle wall, and a section of Saxon cross-shaft has been set into the north--west corner of the wall.
Saxon circular windows
Saxon circular windows
A final reminder of the Saxon origins of St James is the tub font. The font bowl may be late Saxon, though it seems that the wonderfully detailed carving that decorates the entire circumference dates to the 12th century. It appears to show Christ (or a bishop) defeating a pair of dragons, representing sin and evil.
The main entrance is through the south doorway, which shows wonderful, though worn, Norman carving, including several layers of moulding decorated with traditional Norman chevron and dogtooth designs.

In the north aisle is a parish chest dated 1634, and there is a section of an old bell-frame on display, dated 1636.
    Historic Highlights
  • Saxon windows
  • Norman font carving
  • Norman south doorway

I've been to St James 3 or 4 times, and I'm always struck by the sense of age and history I get. Even in a place like Avebury, with its constant reminders of Britain's ancient history, this wonderful church has something special about it.

Early Norman font
The Early Norman font
Font carving detail
Norman font carving detail
The Norman doorway arch
The Norman doorway arch

About Avebury
Address: Church Walk, Avebury, Wiltshire, England, SN8 1RG
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: Immediately beside Avebury Manor, or off High Street. Parking in the National Trust parking area for all Avebury attractions. Usually open daylight hours.
Location map
OS: SU099699
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Avebury Stone Circle - 0.1 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Avebury Manor and Garden - 0.1 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Alexander Keiller Museum - 0.1 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

West Kennet Avenue - 0.4 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Silbury Hill - 0.8 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Windmill Hill - 1 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

Winterbourne Monkton, St Mary Magdalene Church - 1.3 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

West Kennet Long Barrow - 1.4 miles (Prehistoric Site) Heritage Rating

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    Nearest Tourist Information Centre ('as the crow flies')

Devizes Tourism Partnership
Wiltshire Heritage Museum
41 Long Street
SN10 1NS
Tel: 01380 800 400
The official Devizes TIC is now closed, but visitor information is available at several locations, including the Kennet and Avon Canal Museum, Wadworth Visitor Centre and Wiltshire Heritage Museum. Opening times vary with location. The Wiltshire Heritage Museum is currently open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sundays and Bank Holiday 12noon to 4pm (subject to change). Not open on Mondays in winter.