English Church Architecture -
EARDISLEY, St. Mary Magdalene (SO 312 491) (April 2014)
(Bedrock: Silurian Pridoli Series, Raglan Mudstone Formation)
This is a building of rather complex plan (seen above from the northeast), formed of a chancel and nave with a lean-to S. aisle and S. porch, a wider independently-gabled N. aisle and adjoining northwest tower, and a modern vestry and store room to the north of the N. aisle. The unbuttressed tower is an eighteenth-century addition, as witnessed by the round-arched bell-openings composed of wide, single lights. It was erected, according to Pevsner, in 1707. Elsewhere around the church, most features seem restored or renewed, and although the preponderance of trefoil-cusped lancets, usually in pairs or groups of three, suggests a date for the original building around 1300, it fails to prepare the visitor for the greater interest within.
Most immediately striking inside are the N. and S. arcades (shown, respectively, above left and above right). They differ from each other in every particular and so must be described separately. The S. arcade is formed of four bays, with a wall piece separating the easternmost arch from the others. However, all four are round-arched and formed of one unmoulded order, suggesting the cutting through of an earlier Norman wall, towards the end of the twelfth century. Piers are rectangular, with the long sides running north/south and chamfers down the angles. Stylistic differences between the western arches and the eastern arch are limited to the absence of carved chamfer stops beneath the capitals of the latter (one of which is illustrated below left), and Pevsner's explanation for the intervening wall piece, namely that the three arches were cut through the former S. wall of the Norman nave and the single arch through the S. wall of the former chancel, leaving a gap where the chancel arch used to be, is certainly one possibility (there is no chancel arch now), while another could be that the eastern arch once led to a transept since this bay remains cross-gabled today. In either case, the N. arcade is completely out of synchronisation with its southern counterpart and consists of five bays of varying widths, of which the three westernmost consisting of double-flat-chamfered pointed arches supported on octagonal piers and semicircular responds, are probably in keeping with the date of the windows, and the two eastern arches are probably late fourteenth century work (albeit Pevsner says early fourteenth century) and of unclear original function, although at least one of them presumably led to a chapel. The more westerly arch carries two sunk flat chamfers above semi-octagonal responds and the more easterly has an ogee-pointed hood-mould above two very slightly convex mouldings that run all the way round, uninterrupted by capitals.
All this is interesting but proves by no means the most important work at Eardisley, for the exceptional font surpasses even that at Stottesdon, Shropshire, and all but one or two others in this county and Worcestershire. What Malcolm Thurlby describes as its "chalice-shaped [bowl] carved with a tightly woven, two-strand interlace on the rim, a cable-neck, and angular, two strand interlace on the splayed foot" (The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Carving, pub. Logaston Press, 2013), portrays (i) Christ pulling Adam(?) out of hell (the so-called "Harrowing of Hell") towards the north (see the photograph above right), (ii) & (iii) a figure with a halo, holding a manuscript, perhaps intended to represent St. John the Baptist, facing east, next to two men fighting whilst struggling "against the evil forces of the entwining stems" (ibid.), facing south and southeast (see the photograph below left), and (iv), possibly the Lion of Judah, facing west (illustrated below right). However, Thurlby also provides alternative explanations, including the very different suggestion that the figure holding the book represents God the Father and that together with the figure of Christ on his right and the dove on Christ's arm, this comprises a representation of the Trinity. It is impossible to be sure, but it does seem certain the font can be dated to the reign of King Stephen (1135-54), and beyond all doubt, it is an exceptionally fine and well-preserved piece of work.