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St John the Baptist, Ruardean, Gloucestershire

(51°51′23″N, 2°33′6″W)
SO 621 177
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Gloucestershire
now Gloucestershire
medieval Hereford
now Gloucester
  • Ron Baxter
17 June 2009

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Ruardean is a village close to the Herefordshire border in the Forest of Dean district of Gloucestershire. The nearest large town is Ross-on-Wye (Herefordshire) 5 miles to the N. The village itself is bult on a hill, with the church near the top. St John’s has a wide nave with a 4-bay S aisle, the arcade of the mid-13thc with moulded capitals. VCH suggests that the aisle was the nave of the 12thc church, and if this is so, the 12thc S doorway remains in its original location, now protected by a 13thc porch. There is an organ chamber on the N side of the nave. The 15thc chancel is wide and light, and has a S chapel that communicates with the nave aisle. At the W end of the nave is a 14thc tower with a spire. The church is best known for the Romanesque S doorway with a tympanum showing St George and the dragon by sculptors from the Herefordshire School, and a relief panel depicting two fishes discovered in a house in the village in 1956 and reset in the S aisle of the church in the 1980s.


An estate of 4 hides was held by Hadwig in 1066, and by Solomon from William, son of Baderon in 1086. By 1200 it was in the hands of Robert of Aumale, who claimed the advowson of the church in that year in a dispute with Hugh of Walford. Robert was succeeded by his son William. For later ownership of this manor, see VCH.


Exterior Features


Interior Features

Interior Decoration


The tympanum is a key monument of the Herefordshire School of sculpture, similar in its composition to the tympanum at Brinsop (qv), but closer in style to the great Samson tympanum at Stretton Sugwas. It is usually assumed that the Ruardean tympanum is a simplified copy of the Brinsop one, which should not be taken to imply that it is inferior. For this workshop at least, the simpler designs are often more successful, to modern eyes at least. As Zarnecki (1950) pointed out, the sculpture is more dynamic than at Brinsop, and he took the view that the simplification found here was part of a national trend, and dated the work to c.1160, ten years later than Brinsop. For Thurlby, Ruardean is less accomplished, and probably the work of an assistant of the Chief Master. He pointed out that the patronage of William son of Baderon links it to Monmouth castle, although there is little in the way of sculpture that can be firmly attached to that building.

Verey describes the relief panel as Pisces, suggests that it may have come from the jamb of the S doorway, and calls it "another link in the artistic relationshop with Aquitaine (of the Herefordshire School). All of this may be true, but none is without problems. Pisces is normally shown with two fishes swimming in opposite directions, but that may not be particularly significant here. If this is indeed the work of the Herefordshire School it is unusual in being a precise representation of animals rather than something more dramatic and less anatomically correct. The obvious comparison is with the Pisces on the outer arch of the S doorway at Kilpeck, but a comparison of the two carvings raises as many problems as it solves. Again, if it was once on the jamb of the S doorway at Ruardean it is hard to see where, giventhat the doorway appears to be complete as it stands.


Historic England Listed Building 354253

J. Maclean, ‘History of the Parish and Manor of Ruardyn, alias Ruardean’ Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 8 (1883-84), 124-48.

M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture, Logaston 1999, 131-32.

Victoria County History: Gloucestershire 5, 1996, 231-47

D. Verey, The Buildings of England. Gloucestershire: the Vale and the Forest of Dean, London 1970 (2nd ed. 1976), 330-31.

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, 334-37.