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St John the Baptist, Lea, Herefordshire

(51°53′34″N, 2°29′54″W)
SO 658 217
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Herefordshire
now Herefordshire
medieval Hereford
now Hereford
  • Ron Baxter
07 June 2011

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Feature Sets

Lea is a village in the far S of the county, 4 miles SE of Ross-on-Wye and under a mile from the Gloucestershire border, on the N edge of the Forest of Dean. The village, formerly known as The Lea, was in Gloucestershire until 1844. It straddles the main road from Ross to Gloucester, the A40, with the church at its centre, alongside the road. The church was formerly a chapelry of Linton and was in the Gloucester diocese until 1975. St John’s consists of a chancel with a N vestry and organ room; a nave with a N aisle and a N porch, and a W tower with a broach spire. The oldest part of the fabric may be the nave and the tower, both of the 13thc, the tower with a 14thc spire. The nave was widened and the aisle added in the 15thc. In the restoration by Medland and Maberly of 1854-55, the chancel was refitted, most of the walls were recased, and the porch was moved from the S side to the N. The only Romanesque feature recorded here is the unique (for England) and elaborate Italian stoup, in use as a font.





The font was given to the church by Mrs Hope-Edwards in memory of her mother, Mrs Bradney. It came from a London dealer, who got it direct from Italy. The Herefordshire SMR dates the bowl to the 12thc and the stem and elephant base to a later period, but this seems unlikely as both sections carry similar Cosmati work. The List Description and RCHME suggest that the stoup is S.Italian, and Pevsner (19613) and the revision of 2012 date the stoup to the late-12thc or the 13thc, and make comparisons with the episcopal throne at the cathedral of Canosa di Puglia of the 1080s, and the shaft supporters of an apse window at Bari Cathedral for the elephant, and with the columns of the pulpit at the Pieve de San Pietro in Gropina (Tuscany) for the knotted shaft. Shafts apparently tied together like this are also found on the S portal of Modena Cathedral.

The choice of scenes on the bowl of the stoup is unusual, including no specifically religious narrative, although sirens have a moral dimension, always negative owing to their composite form and their habit of luring sailors to their deaths. 5 of the 8 scenes on the bowl refer to the sea or sea creatures, perhaps because the vessel, whether as a stoup or a font, was the site of purification rituals involving water. The other 3 scnes depict battles between pairs of animals; clearly a reference to the battle between virute and vice played out in the natural world.

The font would not normally meet the criteria for inclusion in this Corpus, but was recorded as a tribute to George Zarnecki, who loved and admired it.


A. Brooks and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. New Haven and London 2012, 412-13.

Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record 6770

Historic England Listed Building 155428

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963, 214.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 2: East, 1932, 98-100.