Parish Church of St James Church Avebury

The Parish Church of St. James, Avebury
The church dates from around 1000 A.D., or possible a few years earlier, and still retains its tall Anglo-Saxon nave, although this was altered by the Normans. The early church was two storeys high, with round-headed windows on the ground floor, two of which survive, and four round windows on the upper level. Three of the latter survive high in the north wall. These windows were unglazed but in bad weather wooden shutters were used to close the lower ones The contemporary chancel has gone but when the present chancel was rebuilt in 1878 the remains of walls from a short square-ended chancel was discovered; its floor was about two feet below the present chancel floor. In the north aisle are areas of Saxon plaster above the Saxon window, while a Saxon string course runs along the wall, just below the roof of the aisle and above the tops of the later pointed arches. A piece of a late Saxon cross-shaft has been built into the wall at the north-west corner of the church, near the tower.

The aisles were added to the Saxon nave in the 12th century and access was originally through two low arched openings; the remains of one of these arches can be seen where it has cut away a corner of one of the round-headed windows. These Norman arches disappeared in 1812 when the present arcade was built. The Norman aisles had been widened in the 15th century, when the Norman south doorway was moved to its present position. Each aisle has a squint so that worshippers in the aisles had a view of the main altar. In the north aisle is a small piscina, which served an altar in that aisle, and the stairs to the rood loft. The south aisle had a large wooden gallery, built to hold an increasing congregation, that was also used to accommodate a day school in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Saxon chancel was replaced in the late 13th century, from which period the chancel arch dates, but the chancel was greatly rebuilt in 1879. The present choir stalls were made at this time from the 17th century Trusloe family oak pew that had stood in the chancel; Charles Truslow sent £25 or more from family members in the USA for this work to be done. On the south wall is a memorial to John Trusloe (died 1593), who held the manor of Avebury Trusloe from 1568. The oak chair here is also 17th century, while the communion rails are early 18th century.

Like many Wiltshire churches that of Avebury has a tower built in the 15th century. It is of three stages and has a south-east square to octagonal stair that rises above the crenellated parapet; the roofs and crenellations of the aisles were built at the same time. A new peal of six bells, installed in 1981, was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The only surviving old bell is the tenor, cast in 1719 by Richard Phelps, who was born in Avebury and was master of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry from 1700 to 1738. After the new peal had replaced the old the old tenor was used to strike the hours for the church clock. In the tower the Royal Arms are those of George III, used before 1801, while the 13th or 14th century stone coffin is believed to be that of a prior from the adjacent Benedictine Priory.

One of the glories of this church is the 15th century rood loft, originally used to house the Great Rood, or large crucifix, the most revered object in the early church. In the top rail to the loft parapet are the original 17 sockets that held candles that were kept burning to light the Rood. The Rood would have been destroyed after the Reformation and the loft and screen were removed, probably following an order of 1561 from Elizabeth I. Normally the timber would have been reused but almost uniquely the Avebury church managed to hide and preserve their rood loft. The timbers were stacked against the east wall of the nave, above the chancel arch, and covered with a lath and plaster wall. This was a very risky business for all concerned but the secret was well kept and the timbers were not discovered until 1810. The rood loft was restored in the 1878 – 1884 renovations, and the loft parapet repainted with matching colours to those noted on the woodwork by the architect, Charles E. Ponting. A new panelled screen was provided below with paintings of the apostles, set against gilded fields, in the lower panels.

The tub font is possibly of Saxon origin but has detailed carving of the first quarter of the 12th century. It was apparently done by a local stonemason and probably shows Christ trampling on two dragons, representing evil and sin. However the figure holds a crosier and so has also been held to represent a bishop, although Professor George Zarnecki believes that the rustic sculptor misunderstood the picture that he was copying and added the crosier. The oak parish chest in the north aisle is dated 1634 and is probably contemporary with the oak chair and the Trusloe pew. The framework of the 19th century reredos was made by the village carpenter, also from the Trusloe pew, while the paintings are copies of ones in Florence that were made in Munich. Outside the fine lych gate was built by Messers Titcombe and Shipway of Avebury and designed by the architect, Charles Ponting of West Overton.

The church was dedicated to All Saints in the 13th century but the dedication was later changed to St. James.

Discovered on Flickr (stepheneverettuk ) for this amazing evil building. Original date: 2013-05-12 10:15:00

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