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St James, Little Paxton, Huntingdonshire

(52°14′58″N, 0°15′35″W)
Little Paxton
TL 189 627
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Huntingdonshire
now Cambridgeshire
  • Ron Baxter

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St James's is a brown cobble church consisting of a 12thc. nave and chancel with a Perpendicular S nave arcade and W tower. The chancel was restored in 1890. The S doorway, reset in the aisle wall and covered by a modern (2000) porch, is 12thc. and contains an important figural tympanum described by Pevsner (1968) as 'barbaric and entertaining'. The chancel arch jambs and imposts are also 12thc., although the arch itself is later and steeply pointed. There is a small 12thc. window head set in the S chancel wall.



Exterior Features



Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Keyser identifies the standing figure on the tympanum as an archbishop with his hand extended over an animal prostrated at the foot of the cross. For him the object above his head is 'probably the hand of the Almighty'. The upper figure on the sinister side he identifies as 'perhaps the Agnus Dei'. Stone found the iconography of this and similar tympana 'highly obscure'; a fact which he attributed to illiterate sculptors tending to muddle and distort the symbols. The only sign that admits of no doubt is the central cross. One possibility for the remainder depends on the identification of the smaller beast on the sinister side as a centaur; a senseless animal with the form of a man, used by the compilers of Bestiaries to symbolise people who behave like beasts, deceived by the allurements of the world (Baxter 1998, 36). If this is accepted, then their fate as prey stands in contrast to the care lavished on the sheep like creature on the dexter by the Good Shepherd figure. A tympanum with a cross alone in the centre is found at St John's, Duxford (Cambs).

Victoria County History: Huntingdonshire. II (1932)
R. Baxter, Bestiaries and their Users in the Middle Ages. Stroud 1998.
D. A. Broad, History of Little Paxton: The Story of a Huntingdonshire Village on the Banks of the River Great Ouse. Little Paxton 1989.
C. E. Keyser, A List of Norman Tympana and Lintels. 2nd ed. London 1927, 40.
P. V. Addyman, 'Late Saxon Settlements in the St Neot's Area, II: Little Paxton', Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 62 (1969), 59-94.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Bedfordshire and the County of Huntingdon and Peterborough, Harmondsworth 1968, 286.
RCHM(E), An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Huntingdonshire. London 1926, 201-03.