St Mary, Fownhope, Herefordshire

Download as PDF

Feature Sets (4)


St Mary's is one of the longest churches in the county at 36.3 metres (119 feet). The central tower is 12thc., as is the eastern part of the nave. A south aisle was added in the 13thc., and nave and aisle extended westward c.1300. The present chancel is of the early 14thc., as is the chapel to the south of the tower, now a vestry. A shingled oak broach spire was added in the 14th or 15thc. The jewel of Fownhope is a tympanum of the Virgin and Child by Herefordshire School sculptors, now detached from whatever doorway it once adorned and displayed inside the church. Also recorded here are the E and W tower arches, and the tower bell-openings, string courses and angle corbels.


In 1086 Fownhope was a large manor of 15 hides held by Hugh l'Asne, land granted to him by William fitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford (d.1071). Two priests and a church were recorded, probably indicating minster status. On Hugh's death the manor apparently passed to Robert de Chandos, who had married Hugh's daughter. A market and a fair were granted by Henry III to Roger de Chaundos in 1221. The manor remained in the Chandos family until the 15thc.

Benefice of Fownhope with Mordiford, Brockhampton and Fawley and Woolhope.


Exterior Features


Central tower, E bell-opening

As S bell-opening except for the central capital of the 1st order, which is double-scalloped with sheathed cones.

Central tower, N bell-opening

As S bell-opening in its general form. The capitals are hidden by the clock.

Central tower, S bell-opening

Two orders: the first has a pair of round-headed openings with plain square jambs and arches and a monolithic central shaft, chamfered at the angles on a spurred base. It bears a volute capital with stepped leaves under the volutes, a plain necking and chamfered abacus and no separate impost block. The second order has a plain single enclosing arch, also round-headed, carried on coursed angle shafts with engaged cushion capitals with plain neckings and a chamfered abacus carved from the block to resemble an impost block.

Central tower, W bell-opening

As S bell-opening except for the central capital of the 1st order, which is double-scalloped with triangular wedges between the cones.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Tower, at bell-stage sill level

A continuous string course encircling the tower, chamfered in its lower part with a face above carved with a low roll between fillets.

Tower, at roof level

A continuous string course encircling the tower, carved with a single row of lateral chevron.

Corbel tables, corbels

NE angle

A square human head with fat cheeks, small nose, straight closed mouth and eyes as (ii) above. Two stems of foliage issue from the corners of the mouth. The head is framed by single-strand cable, presumably intended for a ruff of hair, like a lion's mane.

NW angle

Human head, probably female, with broad brow and pointed chin. The hair is centrally parted, hanging down to either side in long straight strands. The eyes and nose are similar to (ii) above, but the mouth is narrow, slightly open, and has the ends turned down.

SE angle

A pair of affronted serpents, their tails entwined, with each biting the tail of the other.

SW angle

Demonic composite human head. He has short pointed horns, a cap of hair depicted as parallel hooked-stem-like strands, a central parting and a widow's peak defined by a row of beading. The eyes are almond-shaped with bulging eyeballs and drilled pupils. The nose is undistinguished, the mouth wide and straight with lips slightly open; the jaw very broad with jowls. Foliage issues from each corner of the mouth.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Tower arches

E tower arch

Of two orders, pointed. The structure repeats that of the west arch, but the arch itself is pointed and double-chamfered - clearly a replacement. In the descriptions below, only capitals and bases are described.

First order (shared): Both capitals are plain double-scallops; the N base chamfer is inscribed with a row of saltires in rectangles, while the south base has zigzag as on the west arch.

Second order, W face: The north capital is a cushion with a conical wedge in the angle tuck. The south is a simple cushion with an angle tuck. Second order bases have incised zigzag on the chamfer.

Second order, E face: Embrasure as west arch, 2nd order E face.

W tower arch

Of two orders, depressed head

First order (shared): Applied half-column responds carrying plain double-scallop capitals with chamfered neckings and quirked chamfered impost blocks. The respond bases have a roll with beak-shaped spurs below a hollow chamfer carved with an inscribed zigzag. The arch is plain and square sectioned.

Second order, W face: The order is carried on attached nook-shafts and cushion capitals with angle tucks and chamfered neckings. Imposts are the same as the 1st order, as are the bases, although the north based is hidden behind the pulpit. The arch is plain and square sectioned, and there is a quirked chamfered label.

Second order, E face: The jambs and arch are plain and square-sectioned, and the arch is carried on quirked chamfered imposts.

Loose Sculpture


Virgin and Child tympanum, segmental, red sandstone. The tympanum was built into the exterior west wall of the nave in the 19thc., but has since been moved inside the church, when recorded it was loose at the west end of the nave. The tympanum is notably large and thick. Extracts from the conservation report made at the time of its removal to the English Romanesque Art exhibition in 1984 are worth repeating here:

'Surface: Slight surface dust. The flaking remains of black, red and yellow pigments are to be found scattered over the surface, indicating a fully polychromed scheme existed at some time. Structure: The stone surface is sound except for slight scaling along the bottom edge of the panel, on the vine leaf to the left, slight loss on the Eagle and in the vine above the winged Lion. A small fragment of vine (20x30mm) is missing from the top left of the panel.'

An estimate of £495 was prepared by Michael R. Eastham of Bristol at that time for the removal and reinstallation of the tympanum, and conservation and cleaning including removal of mortar and consolidation of the pigment and friable areas of stone.

It represents the patron of the church, the Virgin, seated frontally with an unusually large child seated frontally on her lap. Christ is blessing with right hand raised, the left holding a scroll. The Virgin supports Christ with her left hand across his middle, and raises her right hand in blessing. She holds a small fruit between the right thumb and forefinger, and wears a skull cap. Her face is oval with bulging eyes, a straight nose, a small mouth with full lips and a pronounced philtrum. Her chin is cleft, and her ears project to either side. Behind her head and upper body, a symmetrical arrangement of parallel grooves form a half-oval that could represent long hair or a mandorla. Behind the heads of both Christ and Mary are cross-haloes. There are other anomalies in the iconography of the Herefordshire School sculptors, and it is not surprising to find that the halo of the Fownhope Virgin is cruciform. The parallel folds of the robes of both figures are characteristic of the Herefordshire School, and at the hems they fall in regular flattened box-pleats. Each figure has a lower garment with wrinkled tubular sleeves ending in beaded cuffs, and a shawl-like mantle around the shoulders. Christ's feet are bare; the Virgin wears shoes.

On both sides of the central group are tangles of long, triple-reeded stems with furled leaves, multilobed and fluted with scalloped edges. At the lower left is a small bunch of grapes, suggesting vinescroll. Within the foliage are, to the left a bird with a long tail and long hooked beak, shown in right profile, and to the right a winged lion with mouth open to show pointed teeth, shown in left profile. They may be the symbols of St John and St Mark.


h of tympanum 0.77 m
thickness 0.21m
w. 1.78m (originally approx.1.86m)


As at Kilpeck and Shobdon, the tympanum would originally have belonged to a doorway with carved arches, capitals and shafts. Some of this material survived in 1849 (Anon (1849), see Thurlby (1999, 144)). The hieratic frontal position of both figures, and the position of the Virgin's feet, so wide apart, suggests the influence of wooden images, the sedes sapientiae, or Throne of Wisdom, which were extremely popular in Central France (Forsyth (1972)), and which must have come to the notice of the principal sculptor of the School on his pilgrimage to Santiago. It is worth noting that another tympanum of this group, at Aston in North Herefordshire, also shows two evangelist symbols (Mark and Luke). Stylistically there are many parallels with other works of the Herefordshire School. Thurlby (1999) compares the pose and drapery of the Virgin with the figure of Christ as Good Shepherd on a capital at St Giles's Hospital, Hereford, although this is a much less accomplished work. He also notes that 'the huge, staring eyes of both Fownhope figures, the foliage, the lion's head and the bird also have close parallels at Kilpeck and elsewhere'. This bird is something of a trademark; occurring at almost every site in the School (ed). Thurlby speculatively casts some doubt on the identity of the central figure. He notes that, 'the central group is usually identified as the Virgin and Child, even though the Virgin appears remarkably masculine and has a cruciform halo, an attribute usually reserved for Christ or God the Father,' and suggests that a Trinity might have also been intended, completed either by the bird to the left, or (more likely) a bird keystone above. The idea of a dual meaning for the tympanum is developed at some length in Thurlby (1999, 142-43). The fruit held by the Virgin might identify Christ as the fruit of her womb, a suggestion of Heslop (1978, 75-76). For the tower angle corbels, Thurlby (1999, 143-44) finds convincing parallels with Kilpeck and Leominster.


  • English Romanesque Art 1066-1200 (exh. cat., Hayward Gallery). London 1984, 178. (no.138)
  • Anon, 'Fownhope Church, Herefordshire', The Builder, VII (1849), 80.
  • J. Baltrusaitis, La Stylistique Ornamentale dans la Sculpture Romane. Paris 1931, 44.
  • T. S. R. Boase, English Art 1100-1216. Oxford 1953, 8.
  • M. R. Eastham, Correspondence with Janet Holt, Arts Council exhibition organiser, 3 December 1982.
  • I. H. Forsyth, The Throne of Wisdom: wood sculptures of the Madonna in Romanesque France. Princeton 1972.
  • E. F. Gange, Fownhope: its Church and its People. 1950 (repr. 1978)
  • E. S. Prior and A. Gardner, An Account of Medieval Figure-Sculpture in England. Cambridge 1912, 171.
  • G. Marshall, 'Remarks on a Norman Tympanum at Fownhope and others in Herefordshire'. Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 1918.
  • C. Keyser, A list of Norman Tympana and Lintels. London 1904 (2nd ed. 1927),,, 20-21.
  • Samantha Letters, Online Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England Wales to 1516 (http://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/gaz/ gazweb2.html): Herefordshire (Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research: last updated 23 February, 2005).
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963, 132-33.
  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 2: East, 1932, 81-82.
  • Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record, 6777. Now available online at http://www.smr.herefordshire.gov.uk/db.php/p
  • L. Stone, Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages. Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth 1955, 70.
  • T. A. Heslop, 'The Romanesque Seal of Worcester Cathedral', P. L. Everson (ed), Medieval Art and Architecture at Worcester Cathedral (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 1), Leeds 1978, 71-79.
  • M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Logaston 1999, 141-44 and passim.
  • G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210. London 1953, 9-18.
  • G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished thesis, University of London, 1950.
Exterior from S.
Tower from NE.
Interior to W.
Interior to E.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SO 581 343 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Herefordshire
now: Herefordshire
medieval: Hereford
now: Hereford
medieval: not confirmed
now: St Mary
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
George Zarnecki, Ron Baxter