“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Sarsen and the Trap Door

Previously in this blog I have visited Knowlton Church and earthworks in Dorset, where a 12th century Norman church resides within the confines of a much older Neolithic henge monument (dating from circa 2,500 BC). Knowlton Church and earthworks is cited as an example of a newer religion (Christianity) trying to assimilate an older religion (Paganism), by  adopting and repurposing the older religion’s place of worship. Recently I came across another possible example of this repurposing of an ancient religious site, when I visited All Saints Church in Alton Priors, Wiltshire.

All Saints Church also dates from the 12th century and over the years it has undergone a number of major refurbishments and improvements. In the early 1970’s the church was declared redundant and today it only hosts three services a year. The church is however still open to visitors and based on the day of my visit it is rather popular! The day I visited there was a coach load of foreign tourists also exploring the church and its grounds.

The church itself is a relatively small barn like structure and the floor is home to two trap doors, both of which hide sarsen stones. It seems that the church was constructed over these sarsens, and presumably they were originally part of a much older place of worship. The hidden sarsens are not the only indication that the site of the church may have once held religious significance prior to the construction of the present day church. The churchyard is also home to a yew tree that is estimated to be 1700 years old. The aforementioned foreign tourists seemed to be captivated by the yew tree, with some of them taking turns to stand in its hollow trunk, others pressing themselves flat against its outer trunk, some leaving votive offerings, and even a few standing cupping the trees branches and needles in their hands! Clearly to these particular visitors the tree held some spiritual significance.

The other main feature of the church is a monument to local landowner William Button who died in 1590. The monument includes an unusual ornate brass plaque that shows a young man rising from the grave and looking towards the gates of what is presumably heaven. The inscriptions on the plaque and its overall design is somewhat complex, and it seems out of place in what is otherwise a rather simple and plain church. These complex inscriptions have led some to speculate that the plaque conceals a hidden meaning, as opposed to just being a grand attempt at a monument to a wealthy local!

All Saints Church.

Inside the church.

A trap door.

A hidden sarsen.

The monument to William Button.

Button's plaque. 

The churchyard's 1700 year old yew tree.

The yew's split trunk.

Pictures: Wiltshire (July 2016).

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