Church of St Mary Magdalene

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Set at the end of the road in the small hamlet of Baunton, this is a tiny Norman church which receives few visitors. It is a peaceful place set in a big graveyard with neatly trimmed yew trees. The only sound is bees.

It is a simple church with flat roofed nave with a double bell octet at the west end and a small nave with a gable roof. This is unusual as it has no east window, which may be a survival of Celtic Christianity.

The church dates from 1150 and was built by the monks of nearby Cirencester Abbey who owned farmland round here. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it became the parish church. It retains much of its original shape and character. A major restoration by the Victorians added the vestry on the north wall and removed the plaster from the walls. This was when the C14th wall painting of St Christopher was found which has been carefully restored.

This covers most of the north wall and shows St Christopher crossing a stream and carrying the Christ Child with an orb representing the world in his hand. Unfortunately the face of Christ is masked by a stone corbel supporting the roof. On the right bank is a church with a hermit holding up a lantern to guide travellers. On the left is a fisherman with a basket of fish. This is thought to represent Satan ’fishing’ for souls. The fish swimming round St Christopher’s feet are beautifully detailed.

The sixteen sided font is probably C16th but rests on the base of the original Norman font. The pulpit is made up of Jacobean carved wood panels.

Hidden behind a curtain on the south wall is the C15th altar cloth. This was originally made up of alternating panels of yellow and brown damask material but they have now all faded to a cream colour. It is beautifully embroidered using metal and silk thread. In the centre is the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and St James on either side of the cross. This is surrounded by double headed eagles. Below is an eagle (the symbol of St John) carrying an ass and a barrel or tun. This is thought to be a pun on the name of John Ashton, who is thought to have paid for the cloth.

A small and very simple Norman chancel arch leads into the chancel. Compared with the rest of the church, this feels dark as the only light comes through a small window in the north wall. The remains of the rood screen now acts as a reredos on the east wall. In a corner is a small piscina.

This is a delightful unspoilt church. The wall painting and embroidered altar cloth make it well worth finding.

The church is opened daily by a volunteer so don’t plan to get there too early in the morning. There is parking on the road outside.

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