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Deerhurst Abbey

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Title: Deerhurst Abbey  
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Subject: Æthelmund, Odda's Chapel
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Deerhurst Abbey

St Mary's Priory Church, Deerhurst, near Gloucester, England, is unusual in that it contains many elaborate Anglo-Saxon details, including carvings and sculpture. At the beginning of the 9th century land was granted to Deerhurst, and it is generally accepted that significant work was carried out during the 9th and 10th centuries. This makes the church contemporary with the Carolingian Renaissance on the continent, which may have provided the artistic impetus.

There is a second important Anglo-Saxon building in the village, Odda's Chapel, lying about 200 yards south-west of the church

The tower

The lower half of the church tower has stonework laid in herringbone fashion, and above is of later construction with quoins. The lower part of the tower is unusually divided into two separate compartments.

On the second floor there is a western arched doorway with a square hood-mould and beast's head above. This doorway possibly provided access onto an outside gallery. At this level, on the eastern side of the tower, there is an elaborately carved double triangular-headed opening into the nave with stylised capitals and fluted pilasters with reeded decoration.

Below, at first floor level, there is a blocked-up doorway, positioned off-centre, which most likely provided access to a gallery in the nave. Corbels just below this doorway tend to justify this argument. A triangular window is also cut into the east wall of the tower and each of the nave side walls at this level.

Role of the western tower

The role of the western tower at first floor level can be appreciated by looking at the significance of westworks in Carolingian churches. Westworks contained an altar at first floor level, and access was provided by flanking staircase towers. To the south of the tower is a later medieval spiral staircase. This used to lead to the second floor of the tower. The original staircase may have been housed within the tower. The twin staircase tower arrangement only occurred in the larger Anglo-Saxon churches in England (e.g. possibly Winchester and Canterbury), which have now been lost. Deerhurst may have housed an altar similarly to the Carolingian arrangement, and this would account for the positioning of the door to the side and the triangular window, if the altar was located at the centre.


At ground floor level, the entrance to the church has been retained at the west door and through the tower, which originally was the traditional entrance for a church. The present west doorway has replaced the original, but a beast's head above still remains. Over the inner doorway, before entering the church proper, is a sculpture of the Virgin and Child. Beast's head label-stops with spiral decoration have been moved from outside to the inner doorway, and others occur at the chancel arch at the end of the nave. The apse has been demolished and the arch blocked-up. Other Anglo-Saxon sculpture includes the Deerhust Angel on the outside of the south wall of what was originally part of the apse. There is also a rare Anglo-Saxon font in the north aisle, which is decorated with spirals and vine scrolls.


Composer George Butterworth, MC (12 July 1885 – 5 August 1916) is commemorated with a plaque.


The churchyard contains war graves of two soldiers of World War I.[1]

See also

  • List of English abbeys, priories and friaries serving as parish churches


  • Bailey, R. N. (2005) Anglo-Saxon Sculptures at Deerhurst, Bristol.
  • Conant, K. J. (1978) Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 800 - 1200, New Haven.
  • Fernie, E. (1983) The Architecture of the Anglo-Saxons, London.
  • Taylor, H. M. and J. (1965–1978) Anglo-Saxon Architecture, Cambridge.

External links

  • Conjectural reconstruction of how of how Deerhurst Church might have appeared a thousand years ago by Maggie Kneen
  • English Buildings: Deerhurst - Saxon Severnside
  • The Friends of Deerhurst Church
  • Photos of Deerhurst church and surrounding area on

Coordinates: 51°58′05″N 2°11′24″W / 51.9680°N 2.1900°W / 51.9680; -2.1900

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