Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Elkstone , Church of St. John.

Elkstone is situated high on the Western Cotswolds, not far from the main road, ( A417), between Cirencester and Cheltenham. It seems quite a mysterious place, a tiny village, several converted barns and a great church which is partly hidden among trees and to all appearances turns its back on the village.

The bulk of the church, apart from the tower, is Norman. There is an absolute wealth of well preserved Norman features. Around the exterior of the church runs a frieze of mythical animals, some of them surprisingly classical in inspiration, incl. a centaur, a Sphinx and the like, along with exotic animals such as a leopard, etc.

There is a very striking tympanum over the main door, which as is very common in the West of England is not at the West end but to the West end of the South side of the nave.

The tympanum is surrounded by a great band of dogtoothing and beak heads and is obviously an expression of the great work going on on the continent at this time. It depicts Christ in Majesty, surrounded beasts, ( Evangelists?), and is probably among the best work of its date in Gloucestershire.

As you can see the head of Christ has been hacked off.

Inside the effect is almost entirely Norman and the church is dominated by the very fine double chancel arches. The first one has been restored, mainly due to subsidence of the masonry but the second one is in more of its original state. They create a fitting entry to the wonderful chancel itself. It is low and entirely stone vaulted, which is quite rare, especially as the vaults are decorated by strange and unusual visions. At the point where the ribs of the vault interlock there are four beasts heads. There is a lovely , very tiny, East window of the virgin and child and the whole chancel is suffused with a golden light from a similarly small window in its south wall.

The whole place is very quiet and mysterious. If you visit, try the little door to the left as you enter the chancel. If you find it open, climb the tiny staircase and you will emerge above the chancel into an unusual feature, a columbarium or pigeon loft. Why is it here? No one knows.

The tower to the extreme West of the church is very fine and quite too grand for the church. It was built in the late 1300s at a moment of great prosperity for this little hidden hillside.

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

Thank you for your descriptions and photographs of these wonderful churches. They are all within comfortable reach of where I live, and I hope to visit some or all of them during the course of the summer.