All Things Green Man & The Traditional Jack-in-the-Green

New Green Man Sighting

Grave Slab in St Peters Church Northampton © Susan Doncaster

Suzie Doncaster has added this wonderful early green man to our current entry in the gazetteer for St Peter’s Church in Marefair Northampton. The finely carved Anglo Saxon grave slab dates to the 10-11th Century and shows beasts and birds entwined in some incredible foliage all sprouting from the mouth of  a Green Man. It is thought that the grave slab would have been in an earlier church that stood on the same site. The stone was found in a nearby ditch and was used as a door lintel and a mantel piece before finding its way back to the church.

The slab has been attributed to St Ragener an Anglo Saxon prince who was slain by the Vikings in 870. His grave had been forgotten until the mid 11th Century when visions of an elderley man drew a priest of Edward the Confessor to the burial site. Many miracles were said to have taken place at the church and the king had a shrine erected there decorated with gold, silver and precious stones. Sadly nothing of the great shrine remains.

Although the grave slab has been cut down by 3cm on one side the carving is remarkably intact and it is one of the erarliest carved stones in Northampton. St Peters Church is now a redundant Anglican Church and has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building, it is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It is considered to be the most outstanding Norman church in the county.

Copyright © Susan Doncaster

2 responses

  1. Bruce

    What a fantastic find and a stunning piece of carving. I suppose the next question is is this an example of an indigenous tradition of greenman imagery or is this the work of Norman/Continental craftsmen. The lavish description of the shrine certainly sounds like a monument erected under royal patronage and English objections to the Confessor’s Norman entourage are well documented. Any thoughts?

    Aug 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm

  2. Thanks Bruce,

    It is a fantastic piece of work and only one of a number of green men in this church. There are some 12th century capitals and a corbel table listed, perhaps Suzie might be able to get some pictures of those on her next visit? It would be great to find out the origins of the craftsman who must have spent an incredible amount of time on this piece.

    I’ve taken the liberty of copying some information directly from the website of Friends of St Peters to see if it can shed some more light.

    St Peter’s lies between the site of the Anglo-Saxon Palace built about 800AD and the site of the Norman Castle built by Simon de Senlis I about 1100. Recent research suggests that there were two earlier churches here, first a wooden building and then one of stone. All Saints’ Church, St Giles’ Church and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were all founded in the early 12th century and the present St Peter’s was probably built around 1130 to 1140 by Simon de Senlis II. Its unusual design with no break between the nave and the chancel suggests that St Peter’s may have had a special connection with the castle next door.

    St Peter’s almost certainly housed the great shrine of St Ragener, who was nephew to St Edmund, the East Anglian king, and who was slain with his uncle by the Danes in 870. St Ragener’s burial place was discovered in St Peter’s during the reign of King Edward the Confessor and many miracles ensued. Devotion to the shrine of St Ragener continued at least until the 15th century. Northampton Castle was of national importance as the site of the confrontation between Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Beckett, the negotiations between King John and the bishops and barons, leading to the proclamation of Magna Carta, and the infamous treaty of 1328 when Edward III gave up his right to the overlordship of Scotland. In December 1380 Parliament met at Northampton and imposed the iniquitous Poll Tax that led to the Peasants’ Revolt. St Peter’s would have been visited by many of the participants in these events.

    The present building retains many medieval features: the striking two-tone stonework both outside and in, the rich chevron carvings on the round arches of the chancel and nave, the individually carved capitals with their intricate, naturalistic designs, the round-arched arcading all along the exterior walls just below the roof. In the south aisle is displayed the magnificent Saxon stone burial slab, with its birds and beasts and its Green Man; it may have been associated with St Ragener’s tomb.

    The west tower had fallen down by 1607 and was rebuilt later in the 17th century. It was moved about 12 feet to the east, shortening the nave. The sumptuous triple arch at the west end of the nave was carefully rebuilt and the tower retains its Norman design with external round arched arcading. The tower has a ring of 8 bells, first peeled in 1739 and still in regular use.

    The recent restoration by the Churches Conservation Trust has highlighted the 19th century contribution to St Peter’s. The east end was rebuilt by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1850s and the whole church was re-roofed at that time. Scott lowered the floor of the nave and aisles by 1 foot in order to provide the then conventional steps up to the chancel and thereby removing one of the distinct features of St Peter’s. Scott’s second son, John Oldrid Scott, carried out a scheme of stencilled decoration to the east wall in 1878-9 and an ornate carved reredos with paintings by Burlison & Grylls was installed. There is a fine brass lectern, the font has a striking painted cover by George Gilbert Scott, and there are some pleasant stained glass windows from the second half of the 19th century.

    Wiiliam Smith, an important pioneer of the science of geology, is buried in the churchyard, just west of the tower. His memorial, a bust carved by Matthew Noble, is on the west wall of the south aisle. Smith died in 1839 at nearby Hazelrigg House in Marefair, while staying with George and Ann Elizabeth Baker. Their memorial is nearby and they were leaders in the restoration of the church. It was Ann Elizabeth who unpicked the plaster from the carved capitals, which had covered them up since the Reformation, revealing some of St Peter’s finest treasures.

    The Friends of St Peter’s is a society dedicated to the preservation and promotion of an early 12th century church of outstanding beauty and great historical significance. Since 1998, St Peter’s has been in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust, who have restored the church so that its architecture, decorations and furnishings can now be fully appreciated.

    St Peter’s is now used for concerts and for educational and social events and for occasional church services. As well as being a link with the past, St Peter’s is a unique community asset for today.

    The Friends was formed in 1995, just before St Peter’s ceased to be an Anglican parish church, so that there should be a local organisation devoted to its care, to promote wider knowledge and research, and to encourage greater social use of the church. Since 1998, St Peter’s church has been included in the parish of All Saints with St Katharine & St Peter in Northampton.

    Aug 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm

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