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St Peter, Dinton, Buckinghamshire

(51°47′32″N, 0°53′21″W)
SP 767 110
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Buckinghamshire
now Buckinghamshire
  • Ron Baxter
09 July 2007

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Dinton is in central Buckinghamshire, 3.5 miles SW of Aylesbury. The church and Dinton Hall are detached from the rest of the village, which is 0.5 mile to the SW. The church is of rubble and consists of a nave with S aisle and S porch, chancel and W tower. The 3-bay chancel is 13thc. with lancet windows in the side walls and a triple lancet (of 1868) in the E wall. The chancel arch and the blocked S priest's doorway are also 13thc. The 12thc. S nave doorway, reset in the aisle and protected by a 13thc. porch, is the oldest feature of the church, with a justly-famous tympanum with composite beasts and a Tree of Life. The 13thc. N doorway is plain. The nave has a 13thc. 5-bay S aisle and a S clerestory of quatrefoil lights in the 3 E bays only. There is also a 13thc. W doorway, reset in the W wall of the 14thc. tower. This has reticulated bell-openings, W angle buttresses and an irregular polygonal SE stair turret that rises higher than the main parapet and has its own battlement. Work was done in the 14th-15thc., replacing windows in the nave and aisle walls. The church was restored in 1868, and again in 1951. The S doorway is described here, along with the font, which may be a remodelled example of the Aylesbury group.


The manor and church of Dinton were granted by William the Conqueror to his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux in 1070. In 1086 the manor was held by Helto from Odo of Bayeux and was assessed at 15 hides with meadow for 13 plough-teams and a mill. Before the Conquest it was held by Avelin, a thegn of King Edward. The church was given to the abbey of Benedictine nuns at Godstow (Oxfordshire) around 1170. It is now part of the benefice of Stone with Dinton and Hartwell.


Exterior Features




R.C.C.W. suggests a date of c.1140 for the earliest work at the church, i.e. the S doorway, and this might well be correct despite the simplicity of the carving. This date suits the second-order capitals, and carving of this depth and degree of modelling would be unlikely very much earlier. Stone states that the symbolism of the Tree of Life, "that only through the sacraments of the Church was access obtainable to pardon and remission of sins", was explained by the inscription on this tympanum, which seems to be something of a distortion. The present author is inclined towards a slightly different translation of the inscription as:

Whoever despairs of having rewards for his merits

Let him follow the lessons he hears in this place,

with a different reading of the "hic" in line 2. In any case, the inscription emphasises the teachings of the church rather than its sacraments, and seems intended as a corrective to despair rather than a bald theological statement. Confronted beasts of similar form (without the Tree of Life) appear on the S doorway tympanum at Leckhampstead, 17 miles away in the N of the county, and although the scene there is wilder, there are similarities in the use of a frontal human figure, and in the tendency, seen here on the lintel and the third order pseudo-capital, to fill the background with pellets. The clinching comparison is in the bird capitals on both jambs at Leckhampstead and on the E jamb here. To this group must be added the detached stones at Cheddington (qv).

For an explanation of the iconography in terms of Gregory's Moralia in Job the reader is referred to Mary Curtis Webb's analysis (see bibliography).

The present author is not convinced by Pevsner's suggestion that the lower part of the font bowl is 12thc. If this were so the irregular break would surely have been trimmed level for ease of joining the two sections, and the upper and lower parts would exhibit different degrees of wear. A 14thc. date is here suggested for the entire bowl.


C. Keyser, A list of Norman Tympana and Lintels. London 1904 (2nd ed. 1927), fig.40.

N. Pevsner and E. Williamson, Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire. London 1960, 2nd ed. 1994, 275-78.

R.C.C.W., Dinton Church (church guide), undated post-1951.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Buckingham. Volume 1 (south). London 1912.

L. Stone, Sculpture in Britain: the Middle Ages. Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth 1955, 54 & note.

Victoria County History: Oxfordshire. II (1907), 71-75 (on Godstow).

Victoria County History: Buckinghamshire. II (1908), 271-81.

M. C. Webb, Ideas and Images in Twelfth Century Sculpture, Revised ed. 2012, passim., esp. 17-46, 68-84. Only available online here.