Off the beaten track, between Fordingbridge and Downton in Hampshire is St Mary’s Church at Breamore, one of the most famous and important Saxon churches in England, noted for its many Saxon details.
Originally built around AD 980, it has beautiful wooden roofing trusses and some lovely stained glass windows. Evidence was found that the church occupies an eastern corner of a large enclosure and is thought it could have been a Saxon minster on a royal estate.
Other important Saxon details include a rood with wall paintings and exterior masonry with Saxon long and short work and pilaster strips reusing Roman material.
The most striking feature is the door from the tower through to the south porticus with it’s somewhat crude geometry of an Anglo-Saxon doorway. This is special because of its inscription carved into the arch of the south porticus in the Anglo-Saxon language, “HER SWUTELATH SEO GECWYDRAEDNES THE” which is understood to mean “Here is manifested the word to thee”. There is another fragment of lettering above the chancel arch – “DES” – suggesting that the inscription may have continued all around the crossing arches.
Inside the porch above the doorway is a re-located Anglo-Saxon rood (cross), probably originally located above the chancel arch and some fragments of wall painting both within the porch and on either side of the east wall.
There is a fragment of wall painting on the south west of the porch of Judas hanging from a tree. Only the tree roots are easy to discern.
A south porch was added in the middle of the 12th century and an agnus dei (Lamb of God) was inserted above the door.
The chancel was rebuilt around 1340 and the decorated east window inserted. In the 15th century the narrow Anglo-Saxon tower arches were replaced by the wide ones seen today.
Patches of Medieval painting flank the left and right side of the altar and there is a blocked door on the left hand side.
Breamore has one of the largest collections of hatchments (coat of arms of a noble family) You can see these on the north side of the tower. These are also known as funeral escutcheons which were hung in the front of a dead person’s house for about a year before being put on the wall of the church.
The Breamore rood was defaced during the Reformation. The figure of Christ is contorted with pain which is a rare depiction from those times. St Mary and St John the Evangelist are the flanking figures. Although weathered, you can still see a background painting of a landscape with buildings and palm trees.
The original Anglo-Saxon splayed window spaces have been inset in with rectangular windows.
Approaching the church outside on the right side of the path, stands a European Yew tree ’ taxus baccata,’ which is thought to be over a thousand years old.
It was near this area that I had an unusual experience!
I thought I would try out my divining rods (made from old metal coat hangers) which I had not used for a long time. These can detect ley lines. As I walked from the gate, past the yew tree towards the church door, they went berserk – crossing over rapidly. It was a calm, sunny day and I did it several times to make sure it was really happening. When I got home I did some research, but could find nothing about ley lines in the area of the church. So, somewhat of a mystery!