Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Back at Brixworth

As I mentioned previously, I was over at Brixworth, in Northamptonshire, last week, to see the seventh century church (I think there’s some historians who feel that it might date to the latter part of the eighth century, but whatever, it’s really pretty impressive).

Now I know next to nothing about architecture of any period, including early Anglo-Saxon, but even at first glance the church of All Saints is hugely imposing. Imagine it without the spire, and the tower, and you have a pretty fair picture of how it would have appeared in, say, the reign of Offa, King of Mercia. There’s a real basilican feel to it, a reminder of the huge influence that Rome continued to exert, through the Church, right through the so-called Dark Ages. Now I live close to the Anglo-Saxon church at Breedon on the Hill*, and while it scores high for its dramatic location and its superb sculpted friezes, Brixworth leaves it some way behind for sheer grandeur. Some detect the hand of St Wilfrid, a man much given to grand gestures, behind it, and if you accept the earlier building date, that’s quite possible, as he served as a bishop in Mercia for many years (and is, I think, buried at Oundle, not too far away).

There’s also a sunken ambulatory, or ring-shaped crypt, thought to have been used to allow worshippers to view relics, possibly those of St Boniface (and Anglo-Saxon missionary to Germany, martyred in Frisia).

While I was there, I bought a number of pamphlets containing some of the annual Brixworth lectures, on a variety of subjects relating to the church and its Anglo-Saxon past. In one, it mentions that some of the stone used in the building comes from here in Charnwood Forest, possibly having first been used in some of the buildings of Roman Leicester, notably the Jewry Wall. Recycling, seventh century style.

NB: Breedon, someone once told me, actually consists of two word-roots, both meaning 'hill'. I may have mentioned this before - I just noticed that this is the 500th post I've made on Polyolbion, so possibly I'm beginning to repeat myself.

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