July 23rd, 2008

Winterbourne Monkton

We had discussed the possibility of stopping off somewhere on the way home-  maybe spending another night away- so when I saw that our route took us close to Marlborough and Marlborough is only six miles from Avebury I suggested a sharp left turn.

This is the second time we've visited Avebury this year. 

We stayed in Winterbourne Monkton, at a country inn, down a road only wide enough for a single car, tractor or waggon to pass. The inn used to be labourers' cottages, but then the Victorians put a brave face upon it- and now, as the landlady said sadly, there aren't any labourers and the farmers have to bring in seasonal workers. There were photographs on the wall showing the Inn around 1900, with the old lady who presumably owned it and her children and grandchildren- and I thought, it''s only an eyelid's blink since these were taken but everyone in them is dead now, even the grandchildren.

Winterbourne is the name of the local stream- which turns into the Kennet when it reaches Avebury. The village belonged to the monks of Glastonbury (which makes a link between my two favourite places on the planet)- hence the appendage Monkton (monks'  town). The church of St Mary Magdalene is pretty-plain. Last time we were here- in 1991- it was redundant but now- in a wonderful reversal of the normal trends- they're holding services again.

Also it has an amazing font.
To be continued....

The Font At Winterbourne Monkton

The font is Saxon and the carving Norman (that's what my sources say, anyway) 

The zig-zag meander suggests water, and the curving shapes underneath look like horns of plenty.

And then there's this extraordinary figure.

A big-bellied woman, legs splayed, with a leafy sprig coming out of her vulva. In her right hand she holds a sickle. Her face is blank. Her headdress has little points suggesting either horns or a crown. The meander begins at the tip of her sickle and terminates in her cupped left hand. 

That's what I think we're seeing anyway. The carving is so rough there may be other interpretations. Traces of paint remain. 

Who is she- A river goddess? A fertility goddess? St Mary Magdalene? I really don't know. 

St. James, Avebury

While we're on the subject of fonts, there's a very similar one at  St. James, Avebury. I suppose it could even be the work of the same craftsman. Here the figure is apparently male. He has a staff or crozier in one hand and a book in the other and is wearing a short, pleated skirt. There are dragons at his feet- one on either side. His face is- again- a blank, though this time it looks as though vandalism is to blame. He could be Christ, or St James or- well-  anyone really.

Here's another odd fragment of ancient sculpture. It's been salvaged from somewhere or other and built into the church porch- just to the right of the door.  The church was a Saxon foundation, so maybe this fragment is Saxon too. It could be. It seems to represent someone being baptized or healed or blessed or converted or ordained. Whatever it is, he's very happy about it.  

And here's what the church looks like from the outside.