St Mary Magdalene, Eardisley, Herefordshire

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Feature Sets (4)


The church has a nave with N and S aisles; the N arcade dating from the 13thc., but the S from the late 12thc. There is a 16thc. clerestorey on the S side only. Both arcades are unusual in having an E bay that is lower than the others, and on the south the first pier from the east is actually a section of wall containing a 14thc. niche towards the main vessel. Pevsner has argued that the eastern bay was originally the arch to a chapel, and thus that pier 1 marked the division between the nave and the chancel in the 12thc. Sculptural interest in the S arcade centres on the chamfer stops of the piers, carved with foliage motifs and heads. The present chancel has no masonry arch to it, but a timber arch supported on 19thc corbels. There is a N chapel, now housing the organ, and its arch and the chancel windows are of the early 14thc. The tower stands at the NW of the nave, and was rebuilt in 1707. It seems clear, therefore, that a 12thc aisleless church of nave and chancel was given a S aisle and chancel chapel at the end of the 12thc, and a N aisle and chapel in the 13thc. Early in the following century a new chancel was added, with N chapels, and the former chancel incorporated into the nave. The church was 'thoroughly' restored in 1862 (Duncumb (1897), 47).

The church contains a well-known font, carved by sculptors of the Herefordshire School, and three unpublished carved fragments, one reused as a window sill and two loose. A very short distance to the W of the church stood a castle (see VII).


Eardisley (Herdeslege in DS, 10, 46) is listed in 1086 as the property of Roger de Lacy, held from him by Robert, whom Wightman (154) identified as Robert de Baskerville. He suggests that Eardisley, with its fortified house, was the caput of the Baskervilles (147). Robert was succeeded by Roger (fl.1127), then Ralph I (d.1148/9) who married a daughter of Drew fitz Pons of Clifford Castle, It is said that Ralph killed his father-in law in a challenge (before 1127) and thereafter made numerous benefactions to the church (Coplestone-Crow, 20). It was probably he who rebuilt Eardisley church, using sculptors of the Herefordshire School.

Benefice of Eardisley with Bollingham, Willersley, Brilley, Michaelchurch, Whitney, Winforton, Almeley and Kinnersley.


Interior Features



S arcade

Four bays, round headed. As described in section II above, bay 1 may originally have been an arch to a chancel chapel, but it is here treated as part of the arcade. The arches are plain and unmoulded.

E respond: The respond is chamfered without stops, and carries an impost block similarly chamfered in plan, and with profiles of a quadrant scotia below an angle roll and a short vertical face.

Pier 1, as noted in section II above, is a section of walling supporting the arches of bays 1 and 2 at either end. The E end of the pier is treated as the E respond of the arcade, with unstopped chamfers and an impost of the same plan and profile. At the W end, the angles of the pier are chamfered, with chamfer stops containing relief motifs; a clasped lily at the SW and a worn motif, perhaps similar, at the NW. The impost is similar to those of the responds in profile, but squared in plan to correspond with the stopping of the chamfers on the pier.

Piers 2 and 3 are rectangular in plan, being narrower from E to W than from N to S. All four angles of these piers are chamfered, with carved chamfer stops at the top, and imposts squared in plan, as at the W end of pier 1. All the chamfer stops are decorated with simple foliage scrolls, except as follows:

Pier2, NE chamfer stop: small human head with broad nose and moustache.

Pier 3, NE chamfer stop: lion head set horizontally.

Pier 3, NW chamfer stop: human head set diagonally, with tragic mouth, broad nose, bulging oval eyes and a cap of curly hair. It is distinctive in that the cheeks are recessed with marked nasolabial ridges linked to a jawline beard.

W respond. In form resembling piers 2 and 3 rather than the E respond. The NW chamfer stop is carved with an inverted human head.




This is in the SW corner of the nave. It is made up of two blocks of local sandstone and is cup-shaped. The round bowl rests on a splayed base and a circular plinth with two steps but this last is not contemporary with the font. The rim of the bowl is carved with an interlace formed by three double-stranded bands and the necking has cable moulding. Between these two are two scenes carved with great vigour. A pair of armed men amid curling stalks without leaves are engaged in fierce combat. Both men have shoulder-length hair, long, thin moustaches and short pointed beards. Their noses are straight and the eyes are disproportionately large and protruding. They wear pointed helmets, quilted garments, including knee-length trousers and pointed shoes. The quilts are vertical on the breasts and trousers but horizontal on the wide belts and sleeves. The warrior on the R thrusts a spear through the thigh of his adversary who is raising a short sword in his R hand, while holding a stalk with the other, as if for support. It may seem strange to find such a secular and aggressive subject on a font but it is by no means unique, for, for instance, on a font at Wansford (Hunts) c.1120, two men with shields and clubs are shown facing each other.

To the R of this scene is the Harrowing of Hell, in which three figures participate. Christ is identified by the cruciform nimbus. He is holding a cross-staff and has the same facial features as the warriors, except that they are shown in profile and Christ full-face. His upper garments are also like those of the men in combat but instead of trousers, he is wearing three or four robes, one reaching his feet while the others are each shorter in succession. In addition to the broad belt, similar to those worn by the warriors, there is, on top of it, yet another, narrow belt, the ends of which hang down in a manner defying the laws of gravity. Christ is represented marching vigorously forward and pulling the hand of the small nimbed figure of Adam, dressed in similar fashion to the men in combat. The legs of Adam are high above the ground as if to convey the impression that he is floating through the air. Above Christ's shoulder, the dove of the Holy Spirit is flying in the same direction in which Christ is leading Adam. To the R of the scene are leafless stalks forming an irregular pattern and entwining Adam's limbs and even further to the R, as if in pursuit, a large lion is carved, presumably symbolizing hell. It has an abundant mane but otherwise the body is smooth and the long tail passes between its hind legs and ends just below the rim. The head of the lion is shown not in profile, as the body, but full-face. Bond claims (Bond, 183) that 'he has one shut and one eye open; therefore any interpretation of the story on that font which makes him a bad beast is mistaken', but his observation is open to doubt, for both eyes look the same. At the extreme L of the scene is a nimbed figure holding a book, its face very much like that of Christ and also the robe is very similar but lacking the belt. Each of the figure's bare feet, like Christ's, have an ankle-bone indicated by a circle, a detail which is almost a hall-mark of the Herefordshire School.

While discussing the Harrowing of Hell panel of the Lincoln Cathedral Frieze, which follows in including the Byzantine tradition the figure of John the Baptist in this scene, Zarnecki suggested that the figure on the Eardisley font is also St John the Baptist (Zarnecki (1988), 66). However in the same year, the late Robert E. Kaske published a paper in which he suggested that the figure on the font is God the Father. He came to the conclusion that Langland, the author of Piers Plowman, who came from the region of the Malvern Hills, must have known the Eardisley font when he summarized the Harrowing of Hell 'in language that emphasizes unmistakably the participation of all three members of the Trinity' (184). Kaske's theory finds some support from another Harrowing of Hell in the county, namely the early 12thc. capital from the apse arch of Hereford Cathedral, where a Hand of God is included, though there is no Holy Ghost (Professor Rosalie Green drew my attention to this capital in this context). The identification of the figure as God the Father is, however, not conclusive. The base of the font is decorated with the horizontally arranged triangular knot also known as Stafford Knot formed by double-stranded bands. A practically identical base both in the shape and the decoration is found on the font at Chaddesley Corbett, Worcs.

The condition of the font is good with the exception of the rim above the Harrowing of Hell, which is broken and crudely repaired. The head of the lion is also damaged.

Date: second quarter of 12thc., probably c.1140.

circ. at bottom of base 1.92m
circ. at top of bowl 2.47m
h. 0.75m

Loose Sculpture

Carved fragment

A fragment of a nook-shaft of local sandstone carved with a lozenge pattern, except the back which is plain. Probably from a doorway dating from the second quarter of the 12thc. It is likely that it was part of the same doorway to which the next fragment (iii) belonged.


dia. 0.17 m
h. 0.24 m

Carved fragment

A fragment of a nook-shaft with a portion of the adjoining jamb, of local sandstone, much weathered. It is carved with a human head, full-face, with large, bulging eyes. Only the upper part of the head survives. Around the head there are twining stalks of foliage with trefoil leaves. The fragment is clearly the upper section of a shaft from a doorway recognisable as the work of the Herefordshire School, resembling the shafts at Shobdon and Kilpeck. This is thus a precious remnant of an elaborate doorway from the second quarter of the 12thc.


dia. 0.17 - 0.20 m
h. 0.13 m

Carved fragment

A fragment of a carved slab of local sandstone used as the sill of the E window of the S aisle, of which only a portion is visible because one side is trimmed and the other obscured by the window. The carving consists of the compass-rosette of six flat petals, between which are chip-carved semi-circular fields divided into two 'cells', each containing a pellet. The motif resembles the decoration of the lintels at Bredwardine, Letton and Willersley, the most distant of which, Bredwardine, is only 3.5 miles away. But while the above lintels are covered with sculpture without any plain surface left, the rosette seems to have been the only motif carved on the Eardisley stone. It is impossible to be certain whether the stone was used as a lintel or some other decorative feature. The date, like the other carvings of this group, is c.1120. It was not recorded by the RCHME.


h. 0.22 m
w. 0.61 m


The scenes carved on the font are also found on other works of the Herefordshire School. Thus, the warriors have their counterpart on a panel in Monmouth Museum (Gwent), though there the combatants fight with their fists (Morris (1983)). The theme of the Harrowing of Hell is carved on a tympanum at Shobdon and another at Billesley, Warwickshire (Morris (1983)), which provides a striking stylistic parallel to the Eardisley font (Morris (1983), and ERA, 137). But the closest comparison to the Eardisley font is the font at Castle Frome. The scenes there are different but the shape of the font, its size and the style of the carving are so similar that it is evident that both were carved by the same sculptor. The main difference however, is that the Castle Frome font rests on crouching figures but it is very likely that the font at Eardisley was originally also supported in this way. Its bowl and base are 0.03m smaller than their counterpart at Castle Frome but the crouching figures at Castle Frome increase the total height to 0.99m. By the addition of some similar support, the height of the two fonts would be practically the same.

At the time the font was produced, before the S arcade was pierced, the church was aisleless and shorter by the length of the present chancel. On the evidence of the loose fragment (iii), it must be assumed that this church had a richly decorated doorway, perhaps similar to that at Kilpeck. Ralph de Baskerville could have certainly afforded a sumptuous building. It is interesting to note that heads similar to Herefordshire School work (see especially pier 3, NW stop) were carved in the chamfer stops of the inserted arcade, some fifty years afterwards.


  • English Romanesque Art 1066-1200 (exh. cat.). London 1984, 137.

  • Anon. Archaeologia Cambrensis, IX (1863), 376

  • B. Coplestone-Crow, 'The Baskervilles of Herefordshire 1086-1300', Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 43, 18-39.

  • F. Bond, Fonts and Font Covers. Oxford 1908, 50, 153, 181, 183, pl.52a-b.

  • A. W. Clapham, English Romanesque Architecture, II, After the Conquest. Oxford 1934, 155.

  • C. S. Drake, The Romanesque Fonts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia. London, 2002, 19.

  • J. Duncumb, Collections towards the history and antiquities of Hereford. V. Hundred of Huntington. By the Rev. Morgan G. Watkins. Hereford, 1897, 34-53.

  • E. S. Prior and A. Gardner, An Account of Medieval Figure-Sculpture in England. Cambridge 1912, 159, 167.

  • Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record 7367. Now available online at http://www.smr.herefordshire.gov.uk/db.php/p

  • L. Musset, Angleterre Romane I, Le Sud de l'Angleterre. La Pierre-qui-Vire, 1983.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963, 120-22.

  • RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 3: North-west,1934, 50-52.

  • R. E. Kaske, 'Piers Plowman and Local Iconography. The Font at Eardisley, Herefordshire', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 51 (1988), 184-186, pl.l20a-c.

  • R. K. Morris, 'The Herefordshire School: Recent Discoveries', in F. H. Thompson (ed), Studies in Medieval Sculpture, London 1983, 201, pl.LXXXIb.

  • L. Stone, Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages. Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth 1955, 70.

  • M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Logaston 1999, 123-27.

  • W. E. Wightman, The Lacy Family in England and Normandy 1066-1194. Oxford 1966.

  • S. Wood, The Eardisley Font Herefordshire, Eardisley History Group, 2012.

  • G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210. London 1953, 14, pl.25.

  • G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 1951, 316-318.[Available from CRSBI,

  • G. Zarnecki, Romanesque Lincoln, the Sculpture of the Cathedral, Lincoln 1988.

Exterior from SE.
Interior to E.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SO 312 491 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Herefordshire
now: Herefordshire
medieval: Hereford
now: Hereford
now: St Mary Magdalene
medieval: St Mary Magdalene (pre-Reformation)
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
George Zarnecki, Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
17 May 1989, 04 May 2005