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St Mary, Fownhope, Herefordshire

(52°0′19″N, 2°36′42″W)
SO 581 343
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Herefordshire
now Herefordshire
medieval Hereford
now Hereford
  • George Zarnecki
  • Ron Baxter

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St Mary's is one of the longest churches in the county at 36.3 metres (119 feet). The central tower is 12thc., as is the eastern part of the nave. A south aisle was added in the 13thc., and nave and aisle extended westward c.1300. The present chancel is of the early 14thc., as is the chapel to the south of the tower, now a vestry. A shingled oak broach spire was added in the 14th or 15thc. The jewel of Fownhope is a tympanum of the Virgin and Child by Herefordshire School sculptors, now detached from whatever doorway it once adorned and displayed inside the church. Also recorded here are the E and W tower arches, and the tower bell-openings, string courses and angle corbels.


In 1086 Fownhope was a large manor of 15 hides held by Hugh l'Asne, land granted to him by William fitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford (d.1071). Two priests and a church were recorded, probably indicating minster status. On Hugh's death the manor apparently passed to Robert de Chandos, who had married Hugh's daughter. A market and a fair were granted by Henry III to Roger de Chaundos in 1221. The manor remained in the Chandos family until the 15thc.

Benefice of Fownhope with Mordiford, Brockhampton and Fawley and Woolhope.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration

String courses
Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Loose Sculpture


As at Kilpeck and Shobdon, the tympanum would originally have belonged to a doorway with carved arches, capitals and shafts. Some of this material survived in 1849 (Anon (1849), see Thurlby (1999, 144)). The hieratic frontal position of both figures, and the position of the Virgin's feet, so wide apart, suggests the influence of wooden images, the sedes sapientiae, or Throne of Wisdom, which were extremely popular in Central France (Forsyth (1972)), and which must have come to the notice of the principal sculptor of the School on his pilgrimage to Santiago. It is worth noting that another tympanum of this group, at Aston in North Herefordshire, also shows two evangelist symbols (Mark and Luke). Stylistically there are many parallels with other works of the Herefordshire School. Thurlby (1999) compares the pose and drapery of the Virgin with the figure of Christ as Good Shepherd on a capital at St Giles's Hospital, Hereford, although this is a much less accomplished work. He also notes that 'the huge, staring eyes of both Fownhope figures, the foliage, the lion's head and the bird also have close parallels at Kilpeck and elsewhere'. This bird is something of a trademark; occurring at almost every site in the School (ed). Thurlby speculatively casts some doubt on the identity of the central figure. He notes that, 'the central group is usually identified as the Virgin and Child, even though the Virgin appears remarkably masculine and has a cruciform halo, an attribute usually reserved for Christ or God the Father,' and suggests that a Trinity might have also been intended, completed either by the bird to the left, or (more likely) a bird keystone above. The idea of a dual meaning for the tympanum is developed at some length in Thurlby (1999, 142-43). The fruit held by the Virgin might identify Christ as the fruit of her womb, a suggestion of Heslop (1978, 75-76). For the tower angle corbels, Thurlby (1999, 143-44) finds convincing parallels with Kilpeck and Leominster.

English Romanesque Art 1066-1200 (exh. cat., Hayward Gallery). London 1984, 178. (no.138)
Anon, 'Fownhope Church, Herefordshire', The Builder, VII (1849), 80.
J. Baltrusaitis, La Stylistique Ornamentale dans la Sculpture Romane. Paris 1931, 44.
T. S. R. Boase, English Art 1100-1216. Oxford 1953, 8.
M. R. Eastham, Correspondence with Janet Holt, Arts Council exhibition organiser, 3 December 1982.
I. H. Forsyth, The Throne of Wisdom: wood sculptures of the Madonna in Romanesque France. Princeton 1972.
G. Marshall, 'Remarks on a Norman Tympanum at Fownhope and others in Herefordshire'. Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, 1918.
E. F. Gange, Fownhope: its Church and its People. 1950 (repr. 1978)
E. S. Prior and A. Gardner, An Account of Medieval Figure-Sculpture in England. Cambridge 1912, 171.
C. Keyser, A list of Norman Tympana and Lintels. London 1904 (2nd ed. 1927),,, 20-21.
Samantha Letters, Online Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England Wales to 1516 (http://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/gaz/ gazweb2.html): Herefordshire (Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research: last updated 23 February, 2005).
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963, 132-33.
RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 2: East, 1932, 81-82.
Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record, 6777. Now available online at http://www.smr.herefordshire.gov.uk/db.php/p
L. Stone, Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages. Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth 1955, 70.
T. A. Heslop, 'The Romanesque Seal of Worcester Cathedral', P. L. Everson (ed), Medieval Art and Architecture at Worcester Cathedral (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 1), Leeds 1978, 71-79.
M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. Logaston 1999, 141-44 and passim.
G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210. London 1953, 9-18.
G. Zarnecki, Regional Schools of English Sculpture in the Twelfth Century: the Southern School and the Herefordshire School. Unpublished thesis, University of London, 1950.