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All Saints, Pitsford, Northamptonshire

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Feature Sets (2)

Description

All Saints has an aisled nave with five-bay arcades, a chancel and a W tower. All of this is by Slater and Carpenter, dating from 1867-68, except the N nave aisle and the W tower, which are early 14thc. The only 12thc. feature is the important S doorway, with its figural tympanum. This is set under a 19thc. porch.

History

In 1086, three hides and a virgate were held by Fulcher from Walter the Fleming. A further virgate was held by Humphrey from the Count of Mortain. No church was recorded.

Benefice of Pitsford with Boughton.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

S nave doorway

Round-headed, of two orders with tympanum.

First order. The square jambs are decorated with centrifugal lateral face chevron of roll hollow roll hollow profile, all rolls quirked. The triangular edge fields of the top four units on the W jamb and the top three on the E are filled with decorative motifs as follows: W jamb, top. Grotesque, beakhead-like human mask, its this beard resting on the inner chevron roll. The eyes are bulging, with heavy ridges for eyebrows, the nose is short and the mouth straight. W jamb, second. A geometrical form with a rectangle in relief, have a raised outer edge. A tongue-like fillet runs from the centre of this ridge to the vertex of the inner chevron roll. It is roughed out, therefore, as a beakhead would be. W jamb, third. A pentagonal human mask, i.e. a triangle with the top and bottom angles chamfered off. The hair is a straight band, roughly tooled and slightly in relief. Eyes are tint, nose straight, mouth small and open, and chin necessarily pointed. W jamb, fourth. A worn foliage motif terminating, towards the chevron, in a five-lobed fluted leaf. E jamb, top. Small mask, probably human, with large, round sunken eyes with raised pupils, nose worn, mouth small, chin pointed and in the angle of the chevron. E jamb, second. Composite human/cat mask with cat's ears, bulging eyes, a single ridge defining both eyebrows and the straight nose, and a projecting chin overlapping the angle of the chevron. Marks on the cheeks might indicate whiskers. E jamb, third. Triangular geometrical form with nested-vee ridges.

At the tops of the jambs are quirked chamfered imposts, the W a replacement, and the tympanum rests on these. The springers of the arch are carved from the same block as the semicircular tympanum, while the rest of the arch is made up of 11 voussoirs. The arch is carved with lateral centrifugal chevron of the same profile as the jambs, and the inner edge triangles are filled with a variety of small geometrical motifs: beaded rings, or triangles, either voided or with central spines, sometimes decorated with beading. The last three fields, i.e. on voussoir 11 and the two chevron units on the springer, have small bird beakheads, simply shaped and lacking any features. The semicircular tympanum is carved in relief with a large lion in right profile on the left facing a standing warrior carrying a large, broad sword in his left hand. The lion has a mane of overlapping rows of scales, ears lying back, almond-shaped bulging eyes, and mouth wide open displaying pointed teeth. Its beaded tail runs down between the hind legs and terminates above the back in a brush of fluted strands with pointed tips. The warrior has curly hair and beard, a bulging nose and bulging almond-shaped eyes. He wears a short flaring tunic, cross-hatched on the bodice, and stands with his legs apart. The lion is also attacked by two small dragons, one below its head and the other snapping at its back legs. The latter has a long, bifurcated tail decorated with beading and tangling itself into a knotwork motif. Tangled foliage stems also surround the man and the lion's head. Behind the lion stands the trunk of a tree, decorated with overlapping scales. The most curious feature of the tympanum is a pair of discarded wings joined by a short cable, lying crossed at the tips behind the warrior. The semicircular field is framed by a band of cable decorated at intervals with square panels bearing nine small bosses.

Second order. En-delit nook-shafts on bulbous bases. The lower part of the W shaft is octagonal and decorated with chevron, alternately thick and thin rolls, with beading between some of the rolls. The upper part has been lost and replaced with a thinner cylindrical shaft. The E shaft is cylindrical with a broad shaft-ring in the centre. The lower part of the shaft has a lattice design of grooved or beaded strips, not all of which are original. The upper part is uncarved except for the part immediately above the shaft-ring, where the lattice continues with irregular beaded stems, the fields filled with worn foliage and geometrical motifs. The shaft-ring itself is a broad band decorated with beaded lattice, framed by triple fillets at top and bottom, bearing traces of cable and sawtooth designs. The W capital is of trefoil form, the shields framed by a row of beading and the bell on each face covered with three sets of nested-vees rising from the chamfered necking. The E capital is block-shaped and covered with a tangle of double-grooved foliage stems. At the inner angle is a cat-mask. The relief is deep, but the surface badly worn with large losses of the entire surface at the bottom of the capital. The necking is worn away entirely. Both imposts are quirked hollow chamfered. The arch has a fat angle roll with bird beakheads on every voussoir save the first. The beakheads are badly worn, but similar in having ears at the outer corners and long, slender beaks curving over the angle roll. Where eyes survive they are bulbous. Voussoirs 16-19 are better-preserved than the rest and slightly different in design: Voussoir 16: at the top is a fluted trilobe, the eyes are below this, then a row of circular fins, seen edge-on. The beak is broader than the rest and decorated with transverse grooves. Voussoir 17: at the top, long pointed ears, then a long unmarked brow and bulging eyes. The beakhead then tapers to a very slender beak crossing the angle roll. Voussoir 18: a demonic composite mask with cat-like ears, bulging eyes set in recessed sockets, a triangular nose and small open mouth. Below this a trifurcated beard forms the beak, the flanking strands short and ending in curls. Voussoir 19: similar to 18, but the open mouth is larger and the beard single. Voussoirs 10 and 17 have traces of red paint. There is no label.

Dimensions
diam. of tympanum 1.12 m
h. of opening 2.20 m
h. of tympanum 0.58 m
thickness of tympanum 0.16 m
total w. of tympanum block (including springers) 1.60 m
w. of opening 1.10 m

Comments/Opinions

As far as the iconography is concerned, Pevsner suggests "St George and the Dragon, or perhaps Faith fighting Evil." The former seems to be ruled out by the fact that the warrior is fighting a lion, itself beset by dragons. As for the latter, one wonders which figure he had in mind as Faith, and which as Evil. The lion seems fierce, but is not invariably negative, whereas the dragons attacking it always are. Again, tangled foliage can represent the snares of sin, so something of the sort is probably intended. The discarded wings, so far as I know, are unique to this tympanum. For an explanation in terms of Gergory's Moralia in Job, see Webb (2012) in the bibliography. The capital designs, trefoil and tangled foliage, suggest a link to the Reading Abbey cloister workshop, as does the beakhead. If a workshop connection is indeed involved, then a date in the 1130s is likely. RCHME, however, suggests that the tympanum is of c.1120 and the rest of the doorway dates from the late 12thc. Elsewhere in the county, the beakhead ornament is also found at Roade and Earl's Barton but all three appear to be by different workshops.

Bibliography

  • G. Baker, The History and Antiquities of the County of Northampton, 2 vols, London, 1822-41, I, 64f.

  • J. Bridges, The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire, Compiled from the manuscript collections of the late learned antiquary J.Bridges, Esq., by the Rev. Peter Whalley, Oxford, 1791, I, 462f.

  • C. Keyser, A list of Norman Tympana and Lintels, London, 1904 (2nd ed. 1927), lxxxii, 42.

  • J. H. Parker, Architectural Notices of the Churches of the Archdeaconry of Northampton, London and Oxford, 1849, 245-47.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire, Harmondsworth, 1961, rev. by B. Cherry 1973, 374.

  • E. S. Prior and A. Gardner, An Account of Medieval Figure-Sculpture in England, Cambridge, 1912, 159.

  • RCHME Report, uncatalogued.

  • Victoria County History: Northamptonshire, IV (1937), 99f.

  • M. C. Webb, Ideas and Images in Twelfth Century Sculpture, Revised ed. 2012, passim., esp. 47-67. Only available online via https://lib.ugent.be

Exterior from SE.
Exterior from W.

Location

Site Location
Pitsford
National Grid Reference
SP 754 682 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Northamptonshire
now: Northamptonshire
Diocese
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Peterborough
Dedication
medieval: All Saints (1514)
now: All Saints
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
25 August 2004