St John the Baptist, Barnack, Soke of Peterborough

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Feature Sets (3)


St John the Baptist's church has an early 11thc. W tower with an octagonal upper storey and broach spire of c. 1200, an 11thc. nave to which aisles were added, the N in the late 12thc. and the S, along with its porch, in the 13thc. The chancel has a 12thc. N chapel and a broad S chapel (the Walcot Chapel) of c. 1500. The chancel was lengthened and a wider chancel arch built c. 1300. Shortly afterwards the E part of the S nave aisle was widened to form a chapel, and the N chancel chapel was also rebuilt at this time, with a vestry added to the E of it. There was a major restoration in 1853-55, which included the removal of a 13thc. wall blocking the tower arch and the strengthening of the tower walls with iron bands. In the 1935-37 restoration these bands were removed and a number of openings unblocked.

Construction is of Barnack ashlar, all neatly cut except for the Anglo-Saxon portions, built of large irregular blocks with long and short quoins on the angles. Photographs of the celebrated Anglo-Saxon W tower, tower doorway and chancel arch are included here, but descriptions are confined to the Romanesque work. This comprises the N arcade and N chancel chapel arch, the N doorway and a corbel and capital reset in the S rood-loft stair. Notice has also been taken of the Christ in Majesty relief, now set in the N aisle, which has been variously dated between the early 11th and the 13thc.


The vill was first noted in 664 as a grant by Wulfhere, King of Mercia, to Peterborough Abbey (then Medeshamstede). The only mention of the manor in 1086 recorded that 3 hides were held by Otbert of William fitzAnsculf. No church was noted, although parts of the present building were certainly there, and presumably still in the hands of Peterborough.

Benefice of Barnack with Ufford and Bainton.


Exterior Features


N nave doorway

Two orders, pointed.

1st order, continuous with a chamfer.

2nd order, en-delit nook-shafts on water-holding bases with tall waterleaf capitals with roll neckings and plain chamfered imposts. The arch is chamfered with chamfer stops at the ends, and the label is chamfered on the intrados and, in its E end only, on the extrados too.

h of opening 2.20 m
w of opening 1.20 m

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Arch to N chapel. Round-headed. The arch is carried on half-column responds with water-holding bases and multi-waterleaf capitals with ridged leaves. Neckings are chamfered and imposts beaked over a deep hollow with a groove on the face. The arch is of two steps with chamfered orders.



N arcade

Three bays, round-headed. It is carried on cylindrical piers with half-column responds at E and W. Bases are water-holding with spurs on the pier bases but not the responds. Capitals have chamfered neckings and are of a variety of crocket forms, more fully described below. The capitals and their impost blocks are cruciform in plan; the imposts hollow chamfered with slender angle rolls above and below the chamfer. Arches are of 2 orders, differently treated in bay 3. In bays 1 and 2 the 1st order has angle rolls to N and S and a broad fillet on the soffit between them; the 2nd has point-to-point chevron with lozenges on the arris on the S face, and a plain chamfered profile on the N (aisle) face. The 1st order of bay 3 is the same as bays 1 and 2, but the 2nd order, S face has a keeled angle roll flanked by rolls the hollows on both face and soffit. The 2nd order N face of bay 3 is plain and chamfered as in the E bays, but with a chamfered label. E respond capital: crockets, alternately long and short, with a clearly marked rim to the bell of the capital.

Pier 1 capital: crockets at the angles with a row of stiff-leaf below and male heads in the centres of the S and W faces; the S head bearded and hatless, the W beardless and wearing a cap.

Pier 2 capital: crockets at the angles with a row of stiff-leaf below. In the centre of the S face is a long serpent, its body tied in a knot and its tail terminating in a leaf. In the centre of the W face is a beardless male head.

W respond capital: as E respond, but there is a beardless male head in the centre of the main face.

Interior Decoration



Reset in rood stair at NW angle of S chancel aisle. The capital is badly damaged. It has lost its upper surface, most of the W face and part of the necking. It is surmounted by a later chamfered impost block. In form it is a cushion with a roll necking, carving on the E face resembles a roughly-carved head which projects from the surface.

Christ in Majesty relief

Discovered in 1931, set face down in the pavement of the N aisle, and now set against the N wall of the N nave aisle at the E end. The relief is carved on three blocks, horizontally jointed. The uppermost contains only the top of the enclosing arch, the 2nd the entire figure down to the ankles, and the 3rd the feet. The relief stands on a chamfered plinth. Christ is seated in a deep round-headed niche, his R hand with two fingers raised in blessing; his L supporting a book by its upper edge, the lower edge resting on his thigh. He has a short beard and hair centrally parted resting on his shoulders. Behind his head is a plain halo. His garments fall in soft parallel folds, which form an eye over his stomach. The fronts of his lower legs are recessed and flattened in an elongated, inverted teardrop shape. His feet are bare.

d of plinth 0.23 m
h of block 0.99 m
h of plinth 0.04 m
max. d of block 0.22 m
w of block 0.46 m
w of plinth 0.52 m

Human head corbel

Reset in rood stair at NW angle of S chancel aisle, above (i). A crudely carved human head with oval eyes with drilled pupils, nose broken off, oval moth with upper and lower teeth shown, and clear ridges marking the brows and the nasolabial folds.


The N chapel arch, N arcade and N doorway all belong to the later years of the 12thc., although the nave arcade capitals are rather more lavish than anything else. Opinions about the magnificent Christ in Majesty relief are worth recording here. Musset (1983) remarked on the divergence of dates attributed to it, between the early 11thc. and the early 12thc. In fact Gardner (1955) dated it as early as the latter part of the 10thc. Clapham (1933) was the first to express an opinion in print, and he dated it contemporary with the tower, c. 1000. For Pevsner it is work of c. 1000-50; Talbot Rice found a not entirely convincing comparison with a Christ relief at St Radegonde, Poitiers, and on that basis suggested at date of c. 1050. For Kendrick (1949) it is not Anglo-Saxon at all, but a 12thc. work in a French style. The issue of French style is a recurring one in the literature, and it is true to say that it is easier to find comparisons with French late-11thc. and especially 12thc. sculpture than with English compositions of any date. It is hard to know what to make of this: the present author cannot accept Talbot Rice's speculations on the use of English models in France - if that were so, surely there would be more of this kind of thing to be seen in England. The alternative is English exposure to French models, and in the Barnack context this must surely relate to the late-12thc. campaign rather than the early 11thc. work.


  • Victoria County History: Northamptonshire. II (1906).

  • A. W. Clapham, 'A Figure of Christ in Majesty at Barnack', Antiquaries Journal13 (1933), 468.

  • P. G. M. Dickinson, Barnack Church Guide. Barnack 1968 (revised J. M. Goodwin 1990).

  • A. Gardner, English Medieval Sculpture. Cambridge 1955, 38.

  • T. D. Kendrick, Late Anglo-Saxon and Viking Art. London 1949, 146.

  • L. Musset, Angleterre Romane: I. Le Sud. La-Pierre-qui-Vire, 1983, 70-71.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Bedfordshire and the County of Huntingdon and Peterborough. Harmondsworth 1968, 207-10.

  • D. Talbot Rice, English Art 871-1100. Oxford 1952, 114-15.

Exterior from SE.
W tower and spire from SW.
W tower from SW.
Tower, S doorway.
Tower arch from E.
Nave to W.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TF 079 051 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Soke of Peterborough
now: Peterborough
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Peterborough
medieval: not confirmed
now: St John the Baptist
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter