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St John the Evangelist, Shobdon, Herefordshire

(52°15′36″N, 2°52′44″W)
SO 401 628
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Herefordshire
now Herefordshire
medieval Hereford
now Hereford
  • George Zarnecki
  • Ron Baxter
17 May 1989, 19/20 May 1993, 04 Nov 1994, 30 August 2001, 13 October 2007 (RB)

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Feature Sets

The medieval church of Shobdon consisted of nave with S porch, chancel and W tower. A reversed view of it appears in Britannia Illustrata, vol. 2, London 1715, pl. 64 (reproduced here). This church had been demolished by 1752, except for the tower which was restored and re-used, and the present one, consisting of a broad nave with transepts, a short chancel and a W gallery, was built in an elegant Gothick style. The chancel arch and the two lateral doorways of the medieval church were erected in Shobdon Park, about quarter of a mile N of the church, as a folly. They are a crucial monument for the Herefordshire School of Romanesqu sculpture, and are described separately. The 12thc font, also a product of this School, was first discarded and used as a garden ornament in nearby Shobdon Court. In 1852 Lewis (p. 3) commented that "it is much mutilated". At some later date it was moved to the present church, where it is now installed at the crossing. This is the only Romanesque feature of the church.

This report is substantially George Zarnecki's. Ron Baxter's contribution was largely confined to editing, photography and compiling the bibliography.


In the Domesday Survey Shobddon is called Scepedune and in The Herefordshire Domesday (1160-70) Sob(b)edon(a). Dūn in place names means hill (Coplestone-Crow (1989), 180).

Since the foundation of Shobdon and its early history has been discussed elsewhere in some detail (Zarnecki, 1994), it is here only briefly summarized. The chief source is the Wigmore Chronicle (Dickinson and Ricketts (1969)), which states that Shobdon was the property of the de Mortimers, whose caput was Wigmore Castle. It was Hugh I de Mortimer who gave Shobdon to his steward Oliver de Merlimond who decided to replace the wooden chapel then existing at Shobdon by a stone structure. The Chronicle gives no dates but it can be deduced that while preparations were being made for the building of the church, de Merlimond went, c.1125, on a pilgrimage to Compostela and on the journey back home, was entertained by the canons of St Victor Abbey in Paris. On his return to Shobdon the church was completed and consecrated by the Bishop of Hereford, Robert de Bethune, c.1131-2. By c.1135 Shobdon became a priory of the Augustinian canons of the Order of St Victor, with three canons sent from Paris. In the troubled years of the civil war a quarrel broke out between Hugh de Mortimer and his steward as a result of which Oliver de Merlimond was deprived of Shobdon in 1143 and shortly afterwards the canons moved to various locations until eventually they settled near Wigmore where they built an abbey under the patronage of Hugh II de Mortimer. Thus Shobdon reverted to the status of a parish church until it was demolished in 1751. The two doorways and the chancel arch were saved and by March 1752 re-erected in Shobdon Park as a romantic ruin and have since been known as the Shobdon Arches. After a period of neglect Shobdon Arches Trust was formed in 1987, followed by the consolidation and restoration of the monument.





It has been claimed (Prior and Gardner, 160) that the font should be explained as an "offshoot of Toulousian or Cluniac sculpture" but, in fact, it is a typical product of the Herefordshire School. If Shobdon church was the first structure of the School, the font was presumably the first font made by the School. This is quite likely, for the font is the only one of this group having a plain bowl and the carving is confined only to the stem. All other fonts of the School are richer, as at Castle Frome, Eardisley, Stottesdon and Chaddesley Corbett, where both the bowl and the stem are carved as is also the only cylindrical font at Orleton. Of the Edvin Loach font only the bottom part of the bowl survives and this is also richly decorated. The lions on the Shobdon font are very similar to those on shaft no. 3 of the Shobdon Arches and to those on the capital of the W doorway of Leominster Priory.


Anon, The Churches of Shobdon and Their Builders, Hereford, 4th ed. 1973.

R. Baxter, ‘Whose Heritage? The Problem of Shobdon Arches’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 163 (2010), 154 – 176.

B. Coplestone-Crow, Herefordshire Place-Names, British Archaeological Reports (British Series), 214, BAR, Oxford (1989),180.

J. C. Dickinson and P. T. Ricketts (ed.), ‘The Anglo-Norman Chronicle of Wigmore Abbey’, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, 39 (1969), 423-25.

G. R. Lewis, The Ancient Church of Shobdon, London 1852.

I. Pfuell, A History of Shobdon, London 1994.

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

M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Logaston 1999, 71-86; 211-20.

G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, 1950, 231-79.

G. Zarnecki, ‘The Future of the Shobdon Arches’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 146 (1993), 87-92

G. Zarnecki, ‘The Priory Church of Shobdon and its Founder.’ D. Buckton and T.A. Heslop (ed), Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture presented to Peter Lasko. Stroud 1994, 211-20.