IMG_8330I recently visited Breedon-on-the-Hill, Leicestershire, a wonderful church in an amazing location.

I could say a lot about its location. The church and churchyard are strikingly situated upon a prominent hilltop within the defenses of a prehistoric hillfort. The church has its origins as a seventh-century monastery, established within the then-kingdom of Mercia. As such, it is a clear example of early medieval ecclesiastical sites carefully selecting (or being given more like) ancient locales in the landscape as foci for worship and pastoral care.

IMG_8037I could discuss in infinite detail (were I a real stone sculpture boffin) its amazing collection of eighth-century sculpture. None of it in its original location but revealing a sophisticated Italian-inspired school of sculptors furnishing the church and possibly also shrines, tombs and other structures. But I won’t, mainly because I am no expert, but also because I want you to focus on some of the images and perhaps consider visiting yourself.

The study of pre-Viking Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture is very Northumbria-focused. This is unsurprising; some of the most amazing sculpture surviving comes from Northumbria – Ruthwell, Bewcastle, Rothbury etc. In addition to these individual examples of superb sculpture, we could mention the assemblages of sculpture from Monkwearth, Jarrow, Lindisfarne, Hexham, Whitby and other monastic centres. Not only are these collections rich and varied, they can be tied closely into a richer historical record.

Still, if you want my view, for architectural sculpture at least, Breedon-on-the-Hill takes some beating. It shows us what sophisticated, complex Middle Anglo-Saxon religious institutions existed in the Mercian kingdom for which our historical sources are far, far more sparse than those for Northumbria. There is figural art, zoomorphic art, vegetal art, interlace, it is all at Breedon-on-the-Hill! My favourite is the Virgin Mary with her big right hand and empty sockets.

Oh, and the church is co-dedicated to St Hardulph, about whom we know precious little. I like to imagine him as the patron saint of the partially deaf: those who prayed to him were said to be Hardulph hearing…

I tried experimenting with photography using my new cool torch in combination with my digital SLR. I simply want the images to tell the story.

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