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St Andrew, Stogursey, Somerset

(51°10′43″N, 3°8′19″W)
ST 205 428
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Somerset
now Somerset
medieval Bath & Wells
now Wells
  • Robin Downes
  • Robin Downes

June 2004-May 2005

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Stogursey is situated 3 mi from Nether Stowey and 8 mi W of Bridgwater, Somerset. Known in the 11thc as Stoche, it gained the suffix Curci from its 12thc ownwers; ‘Stogursey’ is the anglcised form of ‘Stoke Courcy’. Stogursey village lies at the junction of two ancient routes, one between the Quantocks and the coast, the other from the river crossing at Combwich. E of the junction and beside a brook, a church is known to have existed by the early 12thc. Upstream, S of the junction, Stogursey castle was built by 1204, and probably by 1166 in succession to a building of the early 12thc. A marketplace was established at the convergence of the two routes, perhaps in the 12thc, and a borough had been created by 1225.

The church, which is about 30m above OD, is built of random rubble with ashlar dressings and has a chancel with N vestry, a presbytery with N and S aisles, a crossing tower with N and S transepts, and a nave with a former N porch now used as a store. The tower, which is capped by a spire, and the transepts survive from the late 11thc. The E end was reconstructed in the late 12thc when the chancel was lengthened to form a presbytery and the transepts were extended eastwards. Initially a parish church, the church was given to Lonlay Abbey, Orne, France between 1100 and 1107 and a Benedictine alien priory was established shortly thereafter; the eastern extension of the building was to accommodate the monks. The priory was dissolved c1440, when the building again became a parish church. Norton (1866) gives a plan of the church.


DB records eight manors which lay, in part at least, in the parish of Stogursey. Of these Stoke was the principal manor comprising about half of the total area and manpower. In 1066 Beorhtsige held Stoke, in 1086 it was held by William de Falaise. Emme, daughter and heir of William de Falaise, married William (I) de Curci, and it was this couple that gave the church to Lonlay Abbey, Orne, France. William (I) died c. 1114, and their son William (II) was dead by 1120. That William's son was William (III) de Curci who held the honor in 1166. Stogursey manor descended with the honor and castle until c. 1680. (VCH)


Exterior Features


Interior Features







Greswell (1897) speculates that the establishment of the church and priory by the Normans was part of the development of the low-lying area between the Quantock Hills, the Bristol Channel and the River Parrett―development intended to provide a political platform to control South Wales.

W doorway

The heavily restored round-headed W doorway is described by the HE listing and Pevsner as neo-Norman. However, Thurlby (2020, 159) considers the gorged roll on the first order to be an original 12thc feature.

W crossing arch

The W face of the W arch is monumental, grand even: it is definitely, as the French would call it, an arch ‘of triumph’. The perfect arch, almost exactly symmetrical (the S side slightly stilted) enhances that effect, as also does the outermost billet ornament. There is nothing to debilitate the intended sense of power. Baylé (1980, 407) suggests that this ornament might be the result of a reworking in 1175-80.

Thurlby (2020, 156) notes the unusual nature of the chevron ornament at Stogursey and suggests an analogue in paint at St John the Baptist, Clayton, Sussex. The effect of the chevron motif in the fieldworker's view is to suggest the radiating glory of the real sun-king, Christ.

On the use of angle roll in the first order, Thurlby notes parallels with Le Mont Saint Michel, France, St Nicolas, Caen and Cerisy-la-Fôret France and in England at Lincoln Cathedral. St Peter, Southrop, Gloucestershire and Colchester Castle.

Baylé cites a number of parallels for the Corinthianesque crossing capitals in Normandy, including Rouen Cathedral, Saint-Etienne, Caen, La Trinité, Caen and La Trinité, Fécamp. Numerous parallels in England are given by Baylé and Thurlby. The consequent effect seems to the fieldworker that the dynamic of upward thrust conferred by the decoration of the lower part of the capital is transformed from vertical to horizontal by the volutes before horizontality is joyfully achieved by the rushing leaves: an effect enhanced by the progressive refinement of execution from base to top: all in all, a stimulating and satisfying piece of artistry.

N crossing arch

Thurlby (2020, 157) notes that the moulded abaci depend on Norman sources, as do the bases of the half shafts, probably transmitted through English examples such as at St Peter’s abbey, Gloucester.

Baylé notes that the inhabited capital of the E respond recalls a number of examples in Normandy, in its collar of curls (frequently suggesting a heart shape), which were fashionable throughout the Duchy from 1060―e.g., in Ste.-Paix and La Trinité, Caen, Notre-Dame in Guibray (Falaise), later in Graville-Ste.-Honorine. English examples, from the Herefordshire/Gloucestershire border, are at Dymock, Newnham and Kempley. The lions couchants, in particular their heads, are paralleled at Durham Castle chapel, St. Gervais in Falaise and at Autheuil.

E crossing arch

With its birds, vegetation and volutes, the capital inevitably invites comparison with the E capital of the S crossing arch. It looks to the fieldworker as if the execution imitated this capital but unsympathetically―without much feeling or understanding of the original. There is less harmony. Elements do not effortlessly elide; wings lack grace, power and movement; clarity of delineation is much less; interlace is underplayed to the extent of being largely omitted. Thus does this capital make a useful comparison, enhancing the quality of the E capital of the S crossing arch. The capital (renewed, like the whole upper portion of the pier) is a simplified version of familiar elements and morphology―like the N respond showing a merely formal neo-Norman imitation, without real understanding of the original.

The vegetal decoration of the first order abacus recalls such Late Norman sculpture in the historic county of Northampton as that in the churches of St Kyneburgha at Castor (dated to 1124) and of St Peter at Northampton itself, c. 1150. Baylé, after a detailed analysis of all restoration on all eight capitals, concludes that restoration always respected the original.

We return, in the capitals of the E crossing arch, to decorated abaci, which relates them to the W crossing arch and must suggest a similarity of function and symbolism in the original plan. As has been stressed, the obvious renewal of these two far from deprives them of authenticity. Their feeble figuration, cutting and projection, compared with the six capitals in whitish limestone, may be due to the different qualities of the golden limestone from Ham Hill, but other inferences are possible: their relatively undramatic cutting may be due to lack of skill and/or sympathy in the Victorian mason(s); more subtly, if they are in fact faithful to the originals, then we may need to think of the possibility that these capitals replace ones contemporary with the Late Norman presbytery rather than that they were originally part of the sequence started in the crossing. That last rationalisation might further lead one to wonder if the late 12thc build provided more up-to-date capitals here, replacing originals more in keeping with those of the crossing (see also Thurlby, 2020, 154).

By the late 12thc, extreme stylization was the norm (producing the fantastic geometries of the presbytery arcade arches), rendering sympathy with the older figurative and iconographic style passé. (The fieldworker suggests analogues for these two capitals which support a relatively late date.)

S Crossing arch

The bold depiction of the wings, as so often in Romanesque art, contributes strongly to the harmony and dynamic of the composition; the artist has continued the sweep of the wings into the way in which the birds’ talons rest on the lower folioles of the palmettes. The cuboid shape of the central medallion is sacrificed to the more important principle of the harmony of the whole: by its carrying bold and strong interlace (slightly broken at top left) which relates both to the other vegetal imagery and (in its disposition and sense of movement) to the birds’ wings. Also, the interlace is formed by the birds’ hindquarters. Wherever one starts, there will be an easy route round the capital for visual and aesthetic appreciation. In design and execution, it demands comparison with the N respond of the E crossing arch.

Presbytery Arcades

Thurlby (202, 164-169) gives numerous associations for the different elements of the arcades, drawing from late 12thc English examples. The use of a scalloped capital can be seen in the choir arcades at St Michael and All Saints, Ledbury, Herefordshire. The choice of round-headed arches to match those in the crossing arches can be paralleled at Selby Abbey, St Andrew, Steyning, Sussex and St Mary, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. The use of hyphenated chevron can be seen, amongst other sites, at Glastonbury Abbey, St David’s Cathedral and the S doorway of St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Dated examples of point-to-point chevron over a recessed angle roll can be found at Glastonbury Abbey and the N nave doorway of Llandaff Cathedral. Apex masks seem to have been used first at Sarum cathedral and in the W Romanesque bay of St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester. They can also be seen at Llandaff Cathedral. The crocus flowers on the labels of the S arcade are found most frequently in Shropshire, including Haughmond Abbey.


The significance of the four faces - especially those with triangles - is not immediately obvious. Could they be representations of the Four Evangelists?


The quality of sculpture in the presbytery arcades and crossing capitals is very high, and presumably reflects the lavish patronage of Lonlay Abbey in the late 12thc. Many of the sculptures here are variations on a theme, showing imagination and variety. Doubtless they were intended to signify the importance and status of the monastic east end, and impress visitors.


A. P. Baggs and M. C. Siraut, 'Stogursey', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes), ed. R. W. Dunning and C. R. Elrington (London, 1992), 130-159. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp130-159 [accessed 22 February 2023].

R A Ballard, Church Guide (1977).

M. Baylé, 'Les chapiteaux de Stogursey (Somerset), ancien prieuré de Lonlay-l’Abbaye', Bulletin Monumental 138 (1980), 405-416.

M. Baylé, Les origines et les premiers développements de la sculpture romane en Normandie in 3 vols. (Unpublished doctoral thesis presented at University of Paris, 1992), I.

W. Greswell, 'The Alien Priory of Stoke Courcy', Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society 43 (1897), 62-83.

Historic England listing 1057404.

J.Norton, Church plan, 1866. Lambeth Palace Library ICBS 6131.

J. Onians, Bearers of Meaning (Princeton, 1988).

  1. N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset (Harmondsworth, 1958), 299.

Somerset County Council, Historic Environment Record 30602. Online at http://webapp1.somerset.gov.uk/her/text.asp

M. Thurlby, 'The Romanesque Church of St Andrew, Stogursey' Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society 164 (2020), 150-172.

A. K. Wickham, Churches of Somerset (Dawlish, 1965).