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St Peter, Rowlestone, Herefordshire

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Feature Sets (4)

Description

The original Romanesque church in red sandstone is modest in size. It consisted of an aisleless nave and a chancel without an apse. To this was later added an impressive 16thc. W tower. The S doorway and the chancel arch are, in Pevsner's opinion, 'the very best and most characteristic pieces of the Herefordshire school of carvers'. By contrast, the Romanesque font is so modest that Pevsner fails to mention it. Both the S doorway and the chancel arch are in situ.

Originally there were seven windows but two were replaced by large Gothic openings (in E wall of the chancel and in N wall of the nave) and thus there survive two in the chancel (S and N walls), and three in the nave (one in the S and two in the N walls). The heads of all the windows are made of a single block of stone and the S window of the chancel is enriched with a roll on the arch.

History

Rowlstone is not mentioned in Domesday, for it was property of Llanthony Priory in Wales. Thurlby (1999, pp.111-115) attributes the patronage of Rowlstone to the 'Lacy family, specifically Sybil de Lacy, and her husband, Payn fitz John', only to weaken his claim by stating 'Whether Payn or Sybil was the patron of the ecclesiastical commissions is uncertain'.

Benefice of Ewyas Harold with Dulas, Kenderchurch, Abbeydore, Bacton, Kentchurch, Llangua, Rowlestone, Llancillo, Walterstone, Kilpeck, St Devereux and Wormbridge.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

S Doorway

It is within a modern porch and is of two orders.

1st order

The inner order is plain and its jambs support a carved tympanum with the Ascension, showing Christ in an oval, beaded mandorla. He is holding a very large closed book in his left hand while blessing with the right. The face is damaged, no doubt deliberately, by iconoclasts, but there remains a short, pointed beard and shoulder-length hair with curls. There is no nimbus but a cross. The elongated torso narrows towards the waist, the legs are spread sideways in an exaggerated and anatomically impossible way. The folds of Christ's tunic are V-shaped on the breast, ring-like on the stomach, then they follow the outline of the legs. The hem of the tunic is shown diagonally across the legs. The robe underneath descends in vertical folds without covering the feet, which splay sideways, the five toes are marked correctly and the ankle-bones shown as circles. Four flying angels with outstretched wings grip the mandorla with both hands, their legs pointing up. They wear ringed caps and turn their heads to the spectator. The cable-moulding frames the upper part of the tympanum.

2nd order

This consists of engaged columns with attic bases, carrying capitals, imposts and a thick roll around the tympanum. The capitals and the adjoining blocks are each carved from one piece of stone (a method repeated also on the chancel arch, see below). The R capital is carved on each of its two faces with a dove, tail to tail, their heads turned back, wings curving towards the heads and the tails interlacing with stems of foliage with leaves growing from cable necking. The bird on the W face has, in addition, a large pellet between the wing and neck. On the adjoining block, there are four beaded circles, each enclosing a pellet, linked in pairs by clasps in the form of a grotesque head.

The corresponding capital on the L is a reversed image of the R capital and the adjoining panel is carved with a male human head, strapwork of foliage issuing from its mouth and filling the upper part of the panel with asymmetrical stems.

The imposts on both R and L are carved on both the faces and chamfers with branching scrolls in mirror-image symmetrical arrangement, joint by clasps. Resting on the imposts is a carved arch consisting of 17 voussoirs of various sizes, each with a tablet flower of eight petals. This is enclosed by a label with a saw-tooth ornament on its chamfer.

Interior Features

Arches

Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round-headed, one order. Engaged shafts on attic bases support capitals with cable neckings carved on each of its two faces with a confronted doves entwined by foliage, similar to the motifs on the capitals of the W doorway. Also similar is the use of carved panels adjoining and made from the same block of stone as the capitals. On the L panel is a nimbed angel holding a book in the L hand and a cross in the R, its large wings reaching the ground. Standing besides is a slimmer figure of a nimbed saint, also with a book and a long staff. The R panel shows two figures in upside-down position, an angel resembling that on the L panel, but with a scroll instead of a cross, while the other figure holds a cross and a book.

Above the capitals and panels is a prominent chamfered impost extending E through the thickness of the chancel-arch wall and S and N right to the adjoining S and N walls. The motifs carved on the faces of the imposts are confronted doves, whereas the chamfers are decorated with few doves but predominantly with pairs of upright volutes with a pellet in the centre. The imposts are unusually high, 0.20m, while the capitals are only 0.26m The arch has a thick roll framed by a band of chip-carved diaper ornament, which is, in turn, enclosed by a label with X-in-square pattern.

Dimensions
l. of imposts facing N and S 1.03 m (S) and 1.09 m (N)
l. of imposts facing W 1.83 m (S) and 1.82 m (N)
w. of opening 2.42 m

Furnishings

Fonts

Font

At west end of nave towards the south, a low chalice-shaped font; the bowl mounted on a cylindrical pier with a simple cylindrical water-holding base. The upper rim of the bowl is chamfered externally and (less so) internally. It is unlined.

Dimensions
ext. diameter of bowl at rim 0.74 m
h. of bowl 0.30 m
int. diameter of bowl at rim 0.59 m
overall h. of font 0.95 m

Comments/Opinions

It is difficult to accept Pevsner's opinion that the sculpture of Rowlstone is the very best of the Herefordshire School. Much of it is mechanical and repetitive. The Ascension of the tympanum is closely linked with the scene showing the same subject at Shobdon but there the sculpture is majestic and monumental. Nevertheless, the sculpture in this small, modest church has undoubtedly decorative merit.

The present author attributes the two figures placed upside-down to a mistake in carving, as explained in Zarnecki (1953). Allen's suggestion of a mistake in setting the stone is ruled out because the relief is carved from the same block as the adjoining capital. The iconographic explanation: that the left figure is St Peter (to whom the church was dedicated), and he was crucified upside-down was advanced by Blashill and accepted by Thurlby, but seems unlikely because no crucifixion is shown; because the figure carries a cross-sceptre and a book rather than keys; and because it would not explain the inverted angel alongside.

Bibliography

  • T. Blashill, 'On the Churches of Kilpeck and Rowlstone', Journal of the British Archaeological Association 27 (1871), 489-95.

  • T. Blashill, 'Rowlstone Church', Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 1890-92, 249-50.

  • A. Brooks and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. New Haven and London 2012, 585-86.

  • Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record 6782. Now available online at http://www.smr.herefordshire.gov.uk/db.php/p

  • G. Marshall, 'Remarks on a Norman Tympanum at Fownhope and others in Herefordshire'. Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 1918, 55.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963, 282-283.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 1: South-west, 1931, 220-221.

  • M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Logaston 1999, 111-115.

  • G. Zarnecki, 'Saints on their heads', Country Life, CXIII, 16th April, 1953, 1167-8.

  • G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 1950, 345-53, pl.112-113.

Exterior from N.
Interior to E.

Location

Site Location
Rowlestone
National Grid Reference
SO 374 271 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Herefordshire
now: Herefordshire
Diocese
medieval: Hereford
now: Hereford
Dedication
medieval: St Peter
now: St Peter
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
George Zarnecki, Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
30 July 1990 (GZ), 16 March 2005 (RB)