The hamlet of East Pennard is in the Mendip district of Somerset, 7 miles E of Glastonbury and 4 miles S of Shepton Mallet. It lies in a SW facing cleft of Pennard Hill, a S outlier of the Mendip Hills. It looks SW across the Somerset Levels to its mother Glastonbury (or would, were it not for the trees). It is rather a humble church and settlement today, considering the church notice-board proclaiming minster status. The Roman Fosse Way, now the A37 trunk road, runs SW-NE under a mile to the E over Pylle Hill (the E extension of Pennard Hill).
The church is in the centre of the village and is of coursed and squared rubble with ashlar dressings. It consists of a nave with N and S aisles and a S porch, a chancel with a small S porch and a W tower. It dates substantially from the 14thc and 15thc, but contains an important 12thc font.
The manor belonged to Glastonbury Abbey both before and after the Conquest. It paid tax for 10 hides in 1066, but actually contained 20 hides of which 12 were in demesne, along with 30 acres of meadow, 40 acres of pasture and woodland 1.5 furlongs long and 4 furlongs wide. The 40 occupants listed in the Domesday Survey represent a settlement of some 200 people in all. Of this land, Serlo de Burcy held 1 hide from the Abbot in 1086, and Aelmer held it before 1066.
The font is well positioned centrally at the W end of the nave, well forward of the tower and under the W gallery; there is plenty of room around it for christenings and for the examination of its Romanesque sculpture.
Except for the famous decoration under the bowl, it conforms to the well-known type of square bowl with shallowly cut blank arcading, on a cylindrical stem with circular base complete with spurs connecting it to a squarish plinth (assuming that the present newish plinth corresponds with what it replaces.) The base is of the conventional torus/scotia/torus design, but beautifully executed, with neat lips to the scotia.
Those corner spurs are animal heads (just as conventional as animal feet), slightly reminiscent of but much less terrifying than those of a continental tradition such as may be exemplified on nave column bases at Alpirsbach, Germany. They offer a gentle counterpoint to the consistent representation above, on each of the four faces below the bowl, of a composite creature in quite high relief bearing human heads, avian bodies and legs (four, not two), and floriate tails.
There has been some repair to the font, for example to the base at the N and NW, to the bowl at the top of the E face (probably evidence for a previous lock-fitting, along with other signs at N and S). There is slight damage to the bowl at the SW where the corner is shaved, and the top of the S side has been hacked. Good lead is brought up the rim, across it and down the outside.
|Depth of bowl||0.29m|
|Height of base||0.065 + 0.12m|
|Height of bowl||0.24m|
|Height of plinth||0.31m|
|Height of stem||0.31m|
|Dimensions of bowl at top||0.67m x 0.67m|
|Dimensions of plinth||0.67m x 0.67m|
|Minimum width of rim||0.09m|
Quite well preserved, this displays clear facial features as well as a hood which carries a ridge terminating in a peak at the top where it meets the underside of the bowl. (The treatment of the hood suggests a sense of artistry drawing out the head carving to elide neatly with the bowl.)
The most eroded of the four, this nevertheless shows a clear family likeness.
Similarly hooded, this rather longer face clearly terminates in a pointed beard. Its greater animation, compared with the NE head, is accentuated by a smiling curve of the mouth. (Again, these features can probably be attributed more easily to artistic sensibility than to representation of an individual, let alone allegorical suggestion.)
This is similar to the NE head but less well preserved.
Perhaps the end of the nose has been hacked off, but there is little other damage to what was probably quite a rough carving originally. The ears curve round to elide with the torus of the base, which is probably more the reason for their length than any attempt at verisimilitude (to a dog, or whatever). As ever with Romanesque ‘grotesque’, eyes are strongly accentuated.
Really quite eroded around the eyes, this animal still has splendid ears.
Probably, wear has caused this animal’s rather reptilian appearance. Compared with the NE head, it is equally endowed with long ears, but they are less curved and consequently less artistically effective in uniting head to torus.
This may compared with its opposite at the NE.
Anon, Church Guide
F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints, 3 vols, London 1899, III, 223.
Historic England Listed Building 268364
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset North Somerset and Bristol. Harmondsworth 1958, 163.
Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 22204.