Hailes Church

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This is a tiny Norman church set in the depths of the Gloucestershire countryside on the edge of the Cotswolds, north east of Winchcombe. It is well off the tourist beat and receives few visitors. This is a shame as it is a lovely church with some nice wall paintings.

The church dates from 1175 and is in fact older than nearby “Hailes Abbey”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/ruined_abbeys/midlands_south/hailes/index.html .

There is no settlement around it apart from a couple of farms. The villagers were moved to nearby Didbrook when the church came under the control of the abbey. The church was used by pilgrims, visitors and workmen to the abbey who were not allowed to use the abbey church.

It is a small building with nave, south porch,chancel and tiny bell cote. It is built from honey coloured Cotswold stone with a stone slate roof.

A small step leads into the church which is equally simple inside. There is no electricity. It is still lit by candles. At the back of the nave is a very battered C13th octagonal stone font with a lead lining. The box pews are the originals. The very simple, panelled pulpit is 1606.

On the south wall is a painting of a hunter and dogs chasing a hare which is trying to hide beneath a tree. On the north wall is a very faded painting of St Christopher with the Christ Child.

Across the chancel arch is a rood screen with panelled base and open fretwork top. The stairs leading to the now long gone rood loft can still be seen leading off the back of the chancel arch. The pillars and columns supporting the chancel arch still have remains of paint on them.

The chancel has benches round three sides, medieval tiles on the floor and remains of a sedilia on either side of the priest’s door on the south wall. The east window contains pieces of medieval glass rescued from Hailes Abbey after the dissolution. There are images of nine of the twelve apostles with sentences from the Creed written above them.

On either side of the altar are old grave slabs. One has a foliate cross, the other a simple cross.

The walls of the chancel are painted with a brick pattern with the heraldic arms of pilgrims and patrons of Hailes Abbey, especially the double headed eagle of the founder of Hailes Abbey, Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of Henry III.

Window arches are painted with a black and red chevron pattern. Above the arches are figures from the Medieval Bestiary. On the north wall is a winged elephant charging a griffin. On the south wall is a basilisk and a griffin separated by the bare branches of a tree. Above the sedilia is an owl and a leopard can be made out from his spots above the chancel arch. In recesses are paintings of St Margaret of Antioch and St Catherine of Alexandria.

Round the top of the chancel wall between the timber supports of the roof is a painted frieze with unidentified figures, possibly the apostles and other Biblical characters.

The church was open when we visited. If locked, it may be possible to get a key from the Fruit Farm further down the road. This also has a tea room. There is plenty of parking outside the church.

This makes an interesting visit, particularly combined with the Abbey.

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