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St Swithun, Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire

(51°43′41″N, 2°17′17″W)
Leonard Stanley
SO 802 033
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Gloucestershire
now Gloucestershire
medieval Worcester
now Gloucester
  • Jon Turnock
8 Oct 2013 and 30 Apr 2014

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Leonard Stanley is located 4 miles south-west of Stroud and around 10 miles north-east of Berkeley. Positioned south of the small triangular village green, the former priory church of St Swithun is an aisleless cruciform building with a crossing tower and north nave porch, constructed of coursed rubble limestone. The chancel, nave and transepts all date from the C12th, as does the lower stage of the crossing tower. When first constructed, the chancel appears to have possessed a vaulted ceiling as evidenced by the six remaining stone responds. The upper levels of the tower appear to date from the late C13th while the porch is a C14th addition. Most of the C12th windows were replaced in the 13th and 14th centuries with larger Decorated and Perpendicular windows. C12th round-arched windows are visible on the north side of the nave immediately west of the porch, the south side of the nave and the south transept.

The church once had a cloister projecting from the south side of the nave. All that remains are two blocked doorways on the south side of the nave and a doorway in the west wall of the south transept. There are two blocked doorways, one on the east side of the north transept and the other on the east side of the south transept, that were once the entrances to two chapels that projected from either transept.


The DB states that Leonard Stanley was a manor of 4½ hides held by Ralph de Berkeley. There were 2 ploughs held by the lord and 12 others held between 6 villagers and 14 smallholders, 5 slaves, and a meadow of 10 acres. No church or priest were recorded.

According to a letter written by Roger III de Berkeley to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, in c. 1146, a church dedicated to St Leonard existed at Leonard Stanley by c. 1116. In that year, or there about, Roger III’s father, Roger II de Berkeley, gave the church to his clerk, Sabricht, with the approval of Theulf bishop of Worcester (1113–23). The same letter reports that Sabricht appointed a number of clerics to assist him, some in ‘habitu religioso’ (religious dress) (Patterson, 1998: no. 375). Pipe Roll 31 of Henry I (1130) records the death of Roger II and, more importantly, that Sabricht was a ‘canon’, a possible indication that he had become a regular canon following the Rule of St Augustine (Green, 2012: 61, 105). After Roger II’s death, the honour of Berkeley passed to his nephew William de Berkeley and it was not until the 1140s that Roger III appears to have claimed his inheritance. Barkly (1883–84) speculated that Roger III did not immediately succeed his father because he was absent on crusade. Once Roger III inherited the honour, Sabricht apparently urged him to grant the church to St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester, and retired to the life of a recluse in a place called Winecroft. Roger duly complied and the transaction was confirmed in a charter issued by Simon bishop of Worcester in 1146 (Patterson, 1998: no. 375; Hart, 1863: 113).

While a number of clerics were said to have peacefully retired from Leonard Stanley church and accepted the entry of the Gloucester monks, there were others who disputed the right of Roger III to grant the church to Gloucester Abbey. Roger III complained to Archbishop Theobald that a certain Hugh de Cotes, a former clerical assistant to Sabricht, and his unnamed friends had forged documents with the Berkeley family seal in order to claim rights over the church (Patterson, 1998: no. 375). Another claimant to the church was William prior of Sainte-Barbe-en-Auge in Calvados, Normandy, a strong indication that the church had been served by Augustinian canons connected to the abbey of Sainte-Barbe (Brooke et al., 1967: no. 91). The chronicle of Sainte-Barbe-en-Auge does not record Augustinians from the abbey settling at Leonard Stanley, however it does describe the foundation of a community at nearby Beckford, then in north Gloucestershire, c. 1128 (Arnoux, 2000: 277; Round, 1899: no. 568). One possibility is that Sainte-Barbe Augustinians were settled at Leonard Stanley via Beckford, thus placing the formation of an Augustinian community at Leonard Stanley between c. 1128 and Michaelmas 1130 when Pipe Roll 31 recorded Sabricht as a canon. The Augustinians of Sainte-Barbe eventually renounced their claim to Leonard Stanley church and it remained a dependency of Gloucester Abbey.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Wall passages/Gallery arcades

Vaulting/Roof Supports


Interior Decoration

String courses


Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


The church was restored by Bodley and Garner in the late C19th. It was probably during this restoration work that whitewash was removed from the interior of the church to reveal some wall paintings. Apparently these appeared to date from the C14th and included depictions of a kneeling angel, a male figure holding a church, an armoured knight, a hart, the miraculous catch of fish and a bishop (Middleton, 1880–81: 129–31; Swynnerton, 1921: 219). Unfortunately they were not conserved. Further restoration and repairs were carried out between 1912 and 1917 under the direction of Rev. C. Swynnerton. The west doorway, which had been blocked, was reopened and the roof was replaced at a lower pitch (ibid.: 218–19). Plain voussoirs set in the north wall of the north transept are evidence of a further blocked doorway but this may date from the 16th century (Swynnerton, 1921: 216).

The church of St Leonard that was granted to Sabricht c. 1116 appears to correspond with the remnants of a chapel immediately south-west of the present-day parish church. This structure, now a farm building, originally had an eastern apse and features herringbone masonry, a technique associated with mid-C11th buildings. There is no extant sculptural decoration. Swynnerton was of the opinion that this a late Anglo-Saxon chapel, whereas Middleton suggested that it is a post-Conquest structure built by craftsmen trained in pre-Conquest technologies (Swynnerton, 1921: 222; Middleton, 1880–81: 131–32; Gem, 1988: 24–25, 28–30). Middleton’s conclusion is perhaps supported by the fact that there is no record of a church or priest in Domesday Book. It follows that the new priory church - the present-day parish church - was constructed after 1116.

Discussion of Sculpture

King (1990) has argued convincingly that many of the sculptures at Leonard Stanley were carved by the master sculptor of Old Sarum Cathedral. At the very least, they can be attributed to a sculptor who had worked at Old Sarum and was closely emulating the Master’s style. For example, the relief depicting Adam and Eve in bestial guises is comparable to a sculpted gable from Old Sarum depicting two lions with pupils similarly drilled at angles to denote direction of vision. Dating the Leonard Stanley sculptures in relation to the sculptures of Old Sarum is, however, problematic. There is ongoing debate as to when Old Sarum Cathedral was completed. Attention has been drawn to William of Malmesbury’s description of the cathedral written c. 1125 which implies that the new east end with its lavish sculptures was far advanced, perhaps even completed by this year, and the fact that distinctive Old Sarum motifs began to emerge in Ireland c. 1130 (Mynors et al., 1998: xvii–xviii, 738–39; Stalley, 1971: 71–72, 79–80; King, 1990: 85–86; Thurlby, 2008: 130–7). Yet William of Malmesbury, John of Worcester and the author of the Gesta Stephani recorded that on the bishop’s death in 1139 the roof was incomplete (Potter and King, 1998: 68–69; McGurk, 1998: 278–79; Potter and Davis, 1976: 96–99). Whether this referred to the roofing of the new structure or the re-roofing of the old nave is unclear. Even if a precise timescale for the rebuilding of Old Sarum Cathedral could be established, it would not rule out the possibility that the Master worked elsewhere between building phases or prove that he was employed at Leonard Stanley immediately after his employment at Old Sarum ended.

A major style connection that has been overlooked is the similarity between the Leonard Stanley chancel sculptures and those attributed to the Herefordshire School of sculpture, recently estimated to have been active between c. 1130 and c. 1160 (Thurlby, 2013). The characteristic Herefordshire School features, illustrated by Thurlby (Ibid.: 43–54), of disproportionately large hands and feet, and egg-shaped heads with bulbous eyes and ‘cap-like hair’ are all found in the Leonard Stanley sculptures, particularly on the capital depicting Mary Magdalene and Christ. The depiction of Christ on the celebrated font at Eardisley (Herefordshire), dated c. 1142, not only has cap-like hair and large round eyes, but also a cruciform nimbus, moulded eyebrows, prominent cheekbones and a long drooping moustache like its counterpart at Leonard Stanley. Chwojko and Thurlby (1997: 24) have pondered whether Hereford Cathedral, the probable training centre of the leading Herefordshire School craftsmen, influenced the atelier of sculptors working at Old Sarum. Based on the relationship between the Leonard Stanley sculptures to those of the Herefordshire School it does seem that the Leonard Stanley sculptor was inspired by the vibrant sculptural activity within Herefordshire during the second quarter of the 12th century.

The most unusual relief at Leonard Stanley, and the one that could hold the most significant clue as to when the new priory church was commenced, is that of Adam and Eve as beasts. There is no known parallel for this representation in medieval art. Givans (2001: 272) has noted that the iconography magnifies Eve as the cause of original sin whereas the Bible and most writings of the 12th century are more sympathetic, blaming the cunning of the serpent. Her lunging pose is aggressive and she grasps the tail of the serpent as if she has embraced the words of the Devil.

The present author would like to suggest that this scene is adapted from the writings of Hugh of St Victor, Augustinian canon and theologian. In the first book of his De Sacramentis Christianae Fidei (On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith) he discusses the Creation and Fall of mankind at length, stating that after sin God ‘destroyed the integrity of the human body’ and mankind entered a ruined state (Rainer, 2008: Bk I, 6.9 and 7.19; Deferrari, 2007: Bk I, 6.9 and 7.19). This theme of human degradation and deformity as a result of original sin is prominent in some of his other works, notably the Didascalicon composed in the late 1130s (Coolman, 2010: 60–62). Moreover, De Sacramentis poses the question of whether Adam or Eve sinned more, with Hugh answering Eve since she had been completely seduced by the devil and ate the fruit whilst consumed by pride. It is this idea that is mirrored in the sculptural representation of Eve on the Leonard Stanley relief.

Hugh composed De Sacramentis at St Victor, Paris, c. 1134, and from there it appears to have spread rapidly to various religious centres in England. Henry of Blois ordered that a copy be made for Glastonbury Abbey and others were acquired by York, Reading-Leominster, Hereford, Llanthony and Cirencester (Sharpe, 1996: 165, 855; Sharpe and Willoughby; Mynors and Thomson, 1993: 41, 93). The concentration of copies in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire is manifestly significant and it is worth noting that Cirencester Abbey acquired its early copy from the secular canons at Hereford Cathedral, presumably through the agency of Bishop Robert de Bethune, an Augustinian canon and former prior of Llanthony. It was perhaps no coincidence that the first English Victorine cell was founded at Shobdon (Herefordshire) in the late 1130s through the support of Bishop Robert (Dickinson and Ricketts, 1969: 420–25). Since there is no evidence that Gloucester Abbey had any copies of Hugh of St Victor’s writings, it seems that the impetus for the dissemination of De Sacramentis in Gloucestershire came from Herefordshire.

The identification of the relief with the theology of Hugh of St Victor and the composition date of De Sacramentis provides grounds for dating the Leonard Stanley chancel sculptures after 1134, while also confirming that they should be associated with the Augustinian community rather than the Benedictine monks who replaced them in 1146. Hugh’s text first had to be copied and transmitted making it possible that his ideas did not gain currency in Gloucestershire until later in the decade. The sculpture is embedded in the chancel wall above the aumbry which was designed to hold remnants of the consecrated host, one of the sacraments made necessary because of original sin. Consequently, the relief may be structurally and symbolically integral to this position and therefore in situ as Givans (2001: 248) has argued. Since the chancel of a church was typically constructed first, the iconography of the relief suggests that the building programme could not have commenced until the mid-1130s. These conclusions correspond with the aisleless cruciform plan of the church, a design favoured by Augustinian canons during the first half of the 12th century, and the likelihood that Augustinian canons settled at Leonard Stanley via Beckford between c. 1128, the time when Beckford Priory was founded, and 1130, the year in which Sabricht was recorded as a canon in the Pipe Roll.

The subjects of the two historiated capitals in the chancel are rare within the surviving corpus of Romanesque sculpture in England. An early medieval sculptural representation of Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Christ is found on the famous Ruthwell Cross, but no other 12th-century examples are known in England. There are, however, representations within contemporary manuscript art, including the St Albans Psalter (c. 1130), a leaf from a Canterbury Psalter (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, c. 1140), and the Winchester Psalter (c. 1150). In this respect, the sculptor may have been familiar with and inspired by manuscript traditions.

The Nativity capital bears a striking resemblance to the analogous scene on the north face of the font at All Saints’ church, West Haddon (Northamptonshire), dated c. 1120 (Baxter, ‘West Haddon’). Like the Leonard Stanley capital, the West Haddon font presents the scene within a stylised architectural setting; Mary is reclined horizontally on a bed with her head resting on a pillow at the left-hand side; Christ is depicted on the right in the crib, although he is observed by two animals rather than one, and also by a male figure, presumably Joseph; there is a beaded strap running horizontally across the top edge; and there is a band of cusps carved below the Virgin. The reason for these similarities is difficult to ascertain, although it cannot be attributed to coincidence. One possibility is that both sculptures were inspired by a common source of some prominence that has been lost. The Nativity scene does appear in surviving contemporary manuscripts and ivory carvings, including a liturgical comb thought to have been made at St Albans c. 1130, and the motif of the ox licking the infant Christ is characteristic of Byzantine and Ottonian art (Anon, ‘Liturgical Comb’; Geddes, 2005: 20).

Both capitals are curious for a number of reasons. Other than the fact that they each depict one of the holy Marys, they are conceptually and narratively unrelated. The Nativity capital gives prominence to the Virgin Mary while, unusually, the infant Christ is relegated to the side of the capital where his form is obscured. It has been noted above that this scene cuts off abruptly, as does the scene on the east side of the Mary Magdalene capital. Either the capitals were carved in situ and the sculptor ran out of space or, more likely, these capitals are actually fragmentary. The heavy mortar line beneath both could signal that they were repositioned in the chancel at a later date. In addition, there is the carved fragment in the niche above the north nave doorway which appears to be a former capital.

The original positions of these capitals are unknown but one possibility is the lost Romanesque cloister. Here the capitals would have been visible from all angles and the representation of the infant Christ on the Nativity capital would not have been obscured as it is today. Visible weathering to the surface detail of the chancel capitals does suggest that they once spent some time in a less sheltered position. The arrangement of the cloister could have been similar to that at Reading Abbey where elaborately carved capitals were fixed on single piers, although the Leonard Stanley capitals are larger in dimension (for dimensions and reconstruction of the Reading cloister arcade see Baxter, ‘Reading’; Harrison, 2006: 107). In this context the sculptures could have been part of a cycle of historiated capitals depicting scenes from the Bible, comparable to cycles of miniatures found in contemporary psalters. When the cloister was dismantled it was thoroughly demolished, as evidenced by the lack of visible fabric or depressions, and the three capitals may be the only sculptures that were salvaged. While the east sides of the transepts have been excavated, there has been no attempt to excavate the site of the cloister. Such a project would allow this hypothesis to be tested and, if correct, could lead to some interesting discoveries.

Based on the shape and size of the fragment, the sculpted animal-head on the W face of the Crossing tower might have been a corbel, possibly the sole survival of a extensive decorative corbel table. Corbel tables were a common feature of Romanesque churches big and small, however they rarely survive intact. A notable exception is the nearby church at Elkstone (Gloucestershire) where a series of sculpted corbels still adorn the north and south exteriors of the nave.

The dragon-head label stops on the west face of the east crossing tower and the north nave doorway display pre-Conquest influence. Famous ninth-century examples can be seen at Deerhurst church (Gloucestershire). Their application at Leonard Stanley reflects a wider 12th-century revival of the motif in the region which has been traced to Old Sarum, although a loose dragon-head label stop found at Gloucester Abbey could be a sign that the abbey was influential in popularising the motif within Gloucestershire (Galbraith, 1962: 168; King, 1995: 87; Welander, 1991: 82, illustration).

King (1996: 80) has noted similarities to sculpture in western France, for example the design on the string course in the chancel is found at a number of western French churches dating from the early 12th century. German influences are also perceptible. King (1990: 77–78) has compared the representation of Christ on the north chancel capital to a sculpted head, now in the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia, dated to the second quarter of the 12th century which has been compared to German art. A fragmentary wooden sculpture of Christ at the church of All Hallows, South Cerney (Gloucestershire), dated by Zarnecki (1984: 160) to c. 1130, has been noted for its German influence and also bears a strong resemblance to the Leonard Stanley Christ due to the elongated face, prominent cheekbones and triangular moustache.

Construction of Leonard Stanley church appears to have continued without any major disruption based on the style continuity between the dragon-heads of the north nave doorway and those above the east crossing arch, although they appear to be the work of two different sculptors. The most notable development on the north and south nave doorways is the application of back-to-back and point-to-point chevron which suggest a date between the middle of the century and c. 1170. These observations imply that the Gloucester monks oversaw the completion of the church.


Scholars have consistently identified Roger II de Berkeley as the original patron of the new priory church and its sculptures. This conclusion is untenable if the construction of the church commenced in the early 1130s, after Roger II's death. There is however the possibility that he anticipated the construction of the new church and provided financial impetus for the project. The 1130 Pipe Roll mentions that Sabricht was in possession of treasure belonging to Roger II, presumably the result of a bequest by the latter on his deathbed (Green, 2012: 61).

William de Berkeley, Roger II’s nephew, emerges as the most plausible candidate. Not only was he the lord of the Berkeley honour and fee farm during the 1130s and early 1140s, his enthusiasm for the new religious orders is revealed by his decision to found a Cistercian abbey at Kingswood (Gloucestershire) in 1139 (Brooke et al, 1967: no. 72). It may seem unusual that Roger III de Berkeley failed to mention William as the founder of Leonard Stanley Priory in his letter to Archbishop Theobald, however if Stacy (1999: 12) is correct in his belief that there was animosity between the two cousins this omission would make perfect sense. After all, William had appropriated land and property to which Roger III had the strongest hereditary claim.

Augustinian monastic context

The sculptures and architecture at Leonard Stanley appear to shed light on the vibrant religious culture of central Gloucestershire during the 1130s and 1140s. The Augustinian canons were closely connected to the 12th-century church reform movement in England with Franklin noting that the aisleless cruciform plan may have been adopted to evoke the early Christian basilica and symbolise their reforming ethos (Franklin, 2004: 84; idem, 2012; idem, 2013). The unusual anthropomorphic depiction of the Holy Trinity on the fragment situated in the niche above the north nave doorway may also reflect inspiration from Italy, more specifically Rome, and a deliberate attempt by the Augustinian community to relate themselves to the early Christian Church and, by extension, the church reform movement. Scriptural basis for the representation of the Trinity in human form can be found in Genesis 1:26: ‘And [God] said: Let us make man to our image and likeness’, yet surviving 12th-century Christian art rarely represents the Trinity in this way. The closest parallel to the Leonard Stanley iconography appears on a fourth-century sculpted sarcophagus in Rome, known as the ‘Dogmatic Sarcophagus’, which similarly depicts the Trinity as three bearded men. If the Augustinian canons were actively modelling their churches on early Christian architecture in Italy, it is only a small leap of the imagination to suggest that they were inspired by surviving early Christian art.

Considering the complexity of the sculptural iconography at Leonard Stanley, the Augustinian canons must have had a guiding role in the imagery that was commissioned. The sculptural adaptations of the theology of Hugh of St Victor and the Bible suggest that the community saw sculpture as a legitimate and effective teaching tool. According to The Orders and Callings of the Church (Libellus de Diversis Ordinibus et Professionibus qui sunt in Æcclesia), written by an anonymous Augustinian canon c. 1140, education was a primary concern of the Augustinian canons (Constable and Smith, 1972: 56–57, 82–85). Wood (2009 and 2011) has argued that the imagery of several Romanesque sculptures from Augustinian churches in Northern England were adapted from the sermons of St Augustine of Hippo and 12th-century Augustinian writings, most notably a font once at Everingham (Yorkshire) with imagery inspired by passages from Hugh of St Victor’s De Arca Noe Morali (c. 1125–30). Rudolph (2004 and 2014), in his study of The Mystic Ark, has demonstrated that Hugh of St Victor encouraged the creation of art to stimulate discussion and debate around a specific theological idea or topic. The Leonard Stanley relief of the bestial Adam and Eve may represent an attempt by the Augustinian community to emulate this Victorine practice, in this instance by provoking a discussion around Hugh’s ideas on original sin. These observations imply that Leonard Stanley was no cultural backwater during the 1130s, having strong connections to the Continent and the wider church reform movement.

The transfer of Leonard Stanley Priory to Gloucester Abbey and the expulsion of the Augustinian canons can be understood in relation to the political turbulence created by the succession dispute between King Stephen (1135—54) and Matilda, daughter of King Henry I. In 1146, Roger III de Berkeley was captured and imprisoned by Walter of Hereford on the orders of Roger earl of Hereford, an adherent of Matilda. Details of Roger III de Berkeley’s political allegiance are unclear, though he was the uncle-in-law of Philip, the son of Robert earl of Gloucester, who famously defected to King Stephen at the end of 1145 (Potter and Davis, 1976: 186–87, 190–91). Evidently the Earl of Hereford was suspicious and decided the safest course of action was to subdue a potential opponent. It is tempting to imagine that Roger III de Berkeley granted Leonard Stanley Priory to Gloucester Abbey in order to placate the Earl of Hereford who was the advocate, or patron, of the abbey, though such details are absent from Roger's 1146 letter to Archbishop Theobald.


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