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St John the Baptist, Barnack, Soke of Peterborough

(52°37′58″N, 0°24′25″W)
TF 079 051
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Soke of Peterborough
now Peterborough
  • Ron Baxter

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St John the Baptist's church has an early 11thc. W tower with an octagonal upper storey and broach spire of c. 1200, an 11thc. nave to which aisles were added, the N in the late 12thc. and the S, along with its porch, in the 13thc. The chancel has a 12thc. N chapel and a broad S chapel (the Walcot Chapel) of c. 1500. The chancel was lengthened and a wider chancel arch built c. 1300. Shortly afterwards the E part of the S nave aisle was widened to form a chapel, and the N chancel chapel was also rebuilt at this time, with a vestry added to the E of it. There was a major restoration in 1853-55, which included the removal of a 13thc. wall blocking the tower arch and the strengthening of the tower walls with iron bands. In the 1935-37 restoration these bands were removed and a number of openings unblocked.

Construction is of Barnack ashlar, all neatly cut except for the Anglo-Saxon portions, built of large irregular blocks with long and short quoins on the angles. Photographs of the celebrated Anglo-Saxon W tower, tower doorway and chancel arch are included here, but descriptions are confined to the Romanesque work. This comprises the N arcade and N chancel chapel arch, the N doorway and a corbel and capital reset in the S rood-loft stair. Notice has also been taken of the Christ in Majesty relief, now set in the N aisle, which has been variously dated between the early 11th and the 13thc.


The vill was first noted in 664 as a grant by Wulfhere, King of Mercia, to Peterborough Abbey (then Medeshamstede). The only mention of the manor in 1086 recorded that 3 hides were held by Otbert of William fitzAnsculf. No church was noted, although parts of the present building were certainly there, and presumably still in the hands of Peterborough.

Benefice of Barnack with Ufford and Bainton.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches



Interior Decoration


The N chapel arch, N arcade and N doorway all belong to the later years of the 12thc., although the nave arcade capitals are rather more lavish than anything else. Opinions about the magnificent Christ in Majesty relief are worth recording here. Musset (1983) remarked on the divergence of dates attributed to it, between the early 11thc. and the early 12thc. In fact Gardner (1955) dated it as early as the latter part of the 10thc. Clapham (1933) was the first to express an opinion in print, and he dated it contemporary with the tower, c. 1000. For Pevsner it is work of c. 1000-50; Talbot Rice found a not entirely convincing comparison with a Christ relief at St Radegonde, Poitiers, and on that basis suggested at date of c. 1050. For Kendrick (1949) it is not Anglo-Saxon at all, but a 12thc. work in a French style. The issue of French style is a recurring one in the literature, and it is true to say that it is easier to find comparisons with French late-11thc. and especially 12thc. sculpture than with English compositions of any date. It is hard to know what to make of this: the present author cannot accept Talbot Rice's speculations on the use of English models in France - if that were so, surely there would be more of this kind of thing to be seen in England. The alternative is English exposure to French models, and in the Barnack context this must surely relate to the late-12thc. campaign rather than the early 11thc. work.


Victoria County History: Northamptonshire. II (1906).

A. W. Clapham, 'A Figure of Christ in Majesty at Barnack', Antiquaries Journal13 (1933), 468.

P. G. M. Dickinson, Barnack Church Guide. Barnack 1968 (revised J. M. Goodwin 1990).

A. Gardner, English Medieval Sculpture. Cambridge 1955, 38.

T. D. Kendrick, Late Anglo-Saxon and Viking Art. London 1949, 146.

L. Musset, Angleterre Romane: I. Le Sud. La-Pierre-qui-Vire, 1983, 70-71.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Bedfordshire and the County of Huntingdon and Peterborough. Harmondsworth 1968, 207-10.

D. Talbot Rice, English Art 871-1100. Oxford 1952, 114-15.