St Peter, Dinton, Buckinghamshire

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Feature Sets (3)


Dinton is in central Buckinghamshire, 3.5 miles SW of Aylesbury. The church and Dinton Hall are detached from the rest of the village, which is 0.5 mile to the SW. The church is of rubble and consists of a nave with S aisle and S porch, chancel and W tower. The 3-bay chancel is 13thc. with lancet windows in the side walls and a triple lancet (of 1868) in the E wall. The chancel arch and the blocked S priest's doorway are also 13thc. The 12thc. S nave doorway, reset in the aisle and protected by a 13thc. porch, is the oldest feature of the church, with a justly-famous tympanum with composite beasts and a Tree of Life. The 13thc. N doorway is plain. The nave has a 13thc. 5-bay S aisle and a S clerestory of quatrefoil lights in the 3 E bays only. There is also a 13thc. W doorway, reset in the W wall of the 14thc. tower. This has reticulated bell-openings, W angle buttresses and an irregular polygonal SE stair turret that rises higher than the main parapet and has its own battlement. Work was done in the 14th-15thc., replacing windows in the nave and aisle walls. The church was restored in 1868, and again in 1951. The S doorway is described here, along with the font, which may be a remodelled example of the Aylesbury group.


The manor and church of Dinton were granted by William the Conqueror to his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux in 1070. In 1086 the manor was held by Helto from Odo of Bayeux and was assessed at 15 hides with meadow for 13 plough-teams and a mill. Before the Conquest it was held by Avelin, a thegn of King Edward. The church was given to the abbey of Benedictine nuns at Godstow (Oxfordshire) around 1170. It is now part of the benefice of Stone with Dinton and Hartwell.


Exterior Features


Nave S doorway

Round headed, three orders with tympanum and lintel.

diam. of tympanum 1.60 m
h of lintel 0.28 m
h of opening (ignoring step) 2.04 m
h of tympanum and lintel 1.06 m
thickness of lintel 0.18 m
w of opening 1.23 m

translated by Pevsner as: If anyone despairs of having rewards for his merits Let this man hear the advice and let it be retained by him.

The central section of the front face of the lintel, below the figural scene in the tympanum, is carved with a scene identified by Pevsner as St Michael and the Dragon. The dragon is shown lying in R profile and occupies approximately three-quarters of the field. It has a snake-like head with a large oval eye drilled in the centre and pointed ears. Its mouth is open, revealing sharp teeth and a tongue that projects sharply upwards. It rests on short, bent front legs and one of its short wings is shown, folded horizontally above its body. The tail has a single loop and ends in a point. The tail is smooth, the wing decorated with parallel grooves for flight feathers and the head is scaly. The dragon confronts a small frontal winged man. He looks straight ahead, and his turnip-shaped head is crudely engraved with round, drilled eyes, a straight nose and a smiling mouth. His hands are over-large, with all fingers shown. In his R hand he holds a cross, which he brandishes towards the dragon, and in his L is a small rectangular object, perhaps a book. The two ends of the lintel, below the raised border of the tympanum, are left uncarved. The underside of the lintel is carved with a row of three-strand guilloche with nailhead along its strands, ending at the R in a closed loop containing a boss, and cut off by the jamb at the L end.

First order

The lintel is carried on squared jambs with, at the top of each, a curious chalice-shaped feature carved in relief. Outside the jambs to L and R (but still belonging to the 1st order) is a vertical row of horizontal hearts, carved in relief and each carved on two blocks of stone.


Second order

Carried on detached, en-delit nook-shafts, both carved with double-strand cable, alternately flat and hollow with the hollows outlined by thin fillets. Bases are worn and consist of single bulbous rolls. The W capital is double scalloped, with triangular leaves on the angles half covering the cones. The shields are decorated with concentric reeding, and the necking is single cable. The impost is chamfered with, on the chamfer, a row of vertical leaves, each hollowed our in the centre and decorated with concentric grooves. The face of the impost has two units of star-in-square chip-carving at the W end of the front face and a field with a worn relief carving, possibly a beast in R profile, at the E end. The inner (E) face is carved with a wavy reeded stem with clusters of leaves filling the two semicircular fields. The E capital is approximately cushion-shaped and is carved in deep relief with a frontal bird standing with its wings displayed. The body and head are on the main angle, the feet with large claws rest on the single-cable necking, and each wing forms the shield of the cushion on the two faces. The feathers are deeply articulated on body and wings, but the head is largely worn away. The impost is chamfered, the chamfer decorated as on the W capital, and the face carved with a row of star-in-square chip-carving, three units to each face. The angle of the impost is eroded. In the arch is a heavy angle roll and a face hollow.

Third order

Jambs and arch are carved with lateral, centrifugal chevron consisting of an angle roll and a hollow and another roll on the face. The edge roll has a boss in each vee, and some of these bosses, although badly eroded, retain traces of carving suggesting overall beading, like fruit, or basketweave designs. This order would be continuous, but at the level of the imposts of the 2nd order on either jamb is a horizontal fillet, and below these fillets a design is carved. On the W jamb this is simply a small human head with long hair carved on the inner angle, and what appear to be a pair of shields, as on a double-scallop capital, on the jamb face outside it. Otherwise the chevron design is uninterrupted. On the E jamb a grotesque head with a nose that flares at the top to form the brow, an oval eye (to the R) and square teeth is carved on the angle, and behind it on the front face of the jamb is a snake-like tail that curves in two loops and is decorated along its length with beading. Above and below the tail are rounded pellets; three above and two below. There is a double-chamfered label that runs continuously around the arch and down the jambs. Each chamfer and the face is carved with a row of single billet; the three rows alternating to form a chequer pattern.


The tympanum is carved in relief with a central Tree of Life with a curving trunk, gnarled roots and simple, concave leaves with a central groove. From its branches to L and R hang two fruits, and each is grasped in the mouth of one of a pair of rearing affronted beasts with doglike heads with pointed ears and oval, drilled eyes and lions' manes. Each beast has a pair of front legs only with claws, but the body tapers to a snakelike tail that curves in a loop and ends with an arrow-like tip, pointing upwards. This composition is in a recessed semicircular field, and surrounding the arc is a row of three-strand guilloche with nailhead along its strands, ending in a closed loop containing a boss at each end. Along the bottom edge of the central field is the first line of a verse couplet inscription; the letters raised rather that incised. The second line is similarly carved on the chamfered upper edge of the lintel, and the couplet reads:




ext. diameter at rim 0.83 m
h of bowl 0.53 m
int. diameter at rim 0.59 m
max. h of lower section of bowl 0.24 m


The font is set in bay 4 of the S nave arcade, and consists of a clunch cup-shaped bowl with a sandstone moulded stem on a drum plinth and a step. The bowl is fluted in its lower, curved part, each flute having an ogee pointed tip with trefoil cusping. Above the fluting is a band carved with a row of quatrefoils in relief, a few of these decorated with cusped crosses or three-spoke spirals. The heavy upper rim has three rolls of increasing sizes. The stem is carved in a series of steps with angle rolls. The significant feature of the font is that the bowl has been broken around its entire circumference within the fluted zone, and this allowed Pevsner to suggest that the 14thc.-15thc. ornament of the upper part was added to a damaged 12thc. bowl. This hypothesis will be further examined in section VIII.


R.C.C.W. suggests a date of c.1140 for the earliest work at the church, i.e. the S doorway, and this might well be correct despite the simplicity of the carving. This date suits the second-order capitals, and carving of this depth and degree of modelling would be unlikely very much earlier. Stone states that the symbolism of the Tree of Life, "that only through the sacraments of the Church was access obtainable to pardon and remission of sins", was explained by the inscription on this tympanum, which seems to be something of a distortion. The present author is inclined towards a slightly different translation of the inscription as:

Whoever despairs of having rewards for his merits

Let him follow the lessons he hears in this place,

with a different reading of the "hic" in line 2. In any case, the inscription emphasises the teachings of the church rather than its sacraments, and seems intended as a corrective to despair rather than a bald theological statement. Confronted beasts of similar form (without the Tree of Life) appear on the S doorway tympanum at Leckhampstead, 17 miles away in the N of the county, and although the scene there is wilder, there are similarities in the use of a frontal human figure, and in the tendency, seen here on the lintel and the third order pseudo-capital, to fill the background with pellets. The clinching comparison is in the bird capitals on both jambs at Leckhampstead and on the E jamb here. To this group must be added the detached stones at Cheddington (qv).

For an explanation of the iconography in terms of Gregory's Moralia in Job the reader is referred to Mary Curtis Webb's analysis (see bibliography).

The present author is not convinced by Pevsner's suggestion that the lower part of the font bowl is 12thc. If this were so the irregular break would surely have been trimmed level for ease of joining the two sections, and the upper and lower parts would exhibit different degrees of wear. A 14thc. date is here suggested for the entire bowl.


  • C. Keyser, A list of Norman Tympana and Lintels. London 1904 (2nd ed. 1927), fig.40.

  • N. Pevsner and E. Williamson, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire. London 1960, 2nd ed. 1994, 275-78.

  • R.C.C.W., Dinton Church (church guide), undated post-1951.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Buckingham. Volume 1 (south). London 1912.

  • L. Stone, Sculpture in Britain: the Middle Ages. Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth 1955, 54 & note.

  • Victoria County History: Oxfordshire. II (1907), 71-75 (on Godstow).

  • Victoria County History: Buckinghamshire. II (1908), 271-81.

  • M. C. Webb, Ideas and Images in Twelfth Century Sculpture, Revised ed. 2012, passim., esp. 17-46, 68-84. Only available online via https://lib.ugent.be

Exterior from S.
Exterior from NE.
Interior to E.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SP 767 110 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Buckinghamshire
now: Buckinghamshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Oxford
medieval: not confirmed
now: St Peter and St Paul
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
09 July 2007