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The Dancing Man from Codford St. Peter (Wiltshire)SAXON CHURCHES
Many More Survive than First Imagined

Until some hundred and fifty years ago, it was widely believed that there were no remains of Anglo-Saxon architecture to be seen in Britain. Despite there being next to no surviving parts of secular buildings, Saxon features were slowly recognised in standing ancient churches and today there seem to be few church guides which do not claim some form of Saxon origin.

Though there are numerous churches with the odd Saxon feature, there are only perhaps around fifty churches of major Saxon architectural importance remaining in Britain today. It appears that the Norman invaders attempted a systematic eradication of anything displaying a high degree of 'Englishness' and Saxon churches became a prime target for rebuilding. No major high ranking Saxon churches survive today, nor buildings from any of the great Saxon innovation centres like Winchester or Hexham. For details of these we must look to the archaeologists. Instead, the buildings which still stand are mostly small and ill-preserved and set in so called 'architecturally unfashionable' areas.

Almost 85% of the Saxon architecture which can be seen today dates from the period after 950, when many churches, devastated by Viking raids, were rebuilt in more peaceful times. There was also an increase in the types of churches being built around this time, hence an increase in numbers. Previously, priests were sent out into the countryside from large Minster churches; and mostly ministered to the people at preaching crosses in the open air. The 10th century saw the invention of what is now the parish church and Saxon ecclesiastical buildings began to spring up all over the place for the convenience of their local lords.

Happily, many gems still survive: churches which have endured later centuries almost completely untouched, remains of early minster or monastic churches and even a single church with wooden Saxon walls! From buildings like these, architectural historians have built up a huge amount of data on styles and features which are undoubtedly Saxon, such as pilaster strips and long-and-short quoins. Perhaps the best known are certain types of window. Though evolving styles can be detected in these, for the most part, the developmental sequences of Saxon church architecture still remain highly controversial; and each building, whether still standing or buried beneath the ground, has its contribution to make to our understanding of this important period of British History.

 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2003. All Rights Reserved.