Church of St Mary Magdalene, Baunton
We welcome donations to help conserve the unique wall painting and maintain the fabric of the church. Please contact the Parochial Church Council clerk: firstname.lastname@example.org if you are able to contribute.
The church is of Norman origin, dating from the 12th century. It belonged at that time to the great Abbey of Cirencester and continued in its possession until the Abbey was dissolved in 1539. Some alterations have taken place from time to time, but the building retains much of its original shape and character.
The plain Norman chancel arch is an original feature, and the bowl of the font, probably early 16th century, rests on the original Norman cylindrical font. In the 13th century the Early English window, with its interesting example of 'plate tracery' was inserted in the north wall of the nave, and it was probably in the 14th century that the great painting of St. Christopher (see below) first adorned the north wall; it may have been only part of much more extensive paintings, patterns or perhaps pictures reminding people who could not read of Bible stories or Christian truths.
There were further additions or improvements in the 15th century. The porch and the south door, with its original closing-ring and escutcheon date from about 1500. The church had by this time been provided with a rood-loft, which supported a large crucifix. Near the pulpit are two blocked-up doors which served the stairs up to the loft; beneath it, across the chancel arch, stood a wooden screen, which happily still survives and can be seen at the back of the altar. It contains good tracery and linen-fold panelling. To the right of the altar is an ancient piscina, partly defaced. At the Reformation the rood-loft would have been removed and the painted walls covered with white-wash. In 1876 the church was generally restored; the plaster was removed from the greater part of the walls and the wall-painting uncovered.
The Wall Painting
The church contains a large (13 feet by 9 feet 10 inches) and well-preserved painting of St. Christopher (= Christ-bearer) on the north wall showing the giant ferryman carrying the child across a stream, which is depicted in a lively manner with fish, a small ship and in the centre the small figure of a mermaid with her mirror. According to the legend this child proved to be an unexpectedly heavy burden, since He was the Christ Child upholding the whole world.
On the left and right of the main figure are two separate scenes; on the right is a church with a hooded figure of a hermit holding up a lantern to guide travellers; on the left is a basket of fish, with a seated figure holding a line to which a fish is rising. Perhaps some details of the scene were inspired by the River Churn which flows nearby, but St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, was often depicted on the north wall of churches, so that those entering or leaving by the south door, worshippers or passers-by, could see him and claim his protection as they went on their way.
We must be thankful that so much of the ancient adornment of the building survives. This small church in its architectural simplicity still stands here for the glory of God and for the use of the people of Baunton and others who come here to worship and pray as people have done for 800 years.