St John the Baptist - Berkswell, West Midlands
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member SMacB
N 52° 24.591 W 001° 38.584
30U E 592298 N 5807489
Quick Description: St John the Baptist church, Berkswell, which boasts one of largest and best Norman crypts in England.
Location: West Midlands, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 4/23/2017 3:33:14 PM
Waymark Code: WMVJ2A
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member veritas vita
Views: 0

Long Description:
"Berkswell is a pretty posh neighbourhood: the whole place reeks of prosperity. Its church is the sort of picturebook building that complements it perfectly. Carved from pink sandstone, beautifully situated, squat and well-ordered and with its almost-too-good-to-be-true half-timbered porch it glowed in the later Sunday afternoon winter sunshine when we visited: the very vision of English rural perfection.

Berkswell Church, though, is no Victorian re-creation of the “ideal” country church. The north arcade and chancel are Norman, and the church also boasts one of largest and best Norman crypts in England.

This is an ancient place deep in the now sadly depleted Forest of Arden that Shakespeare would have known so well. The churchyard cross is believed to have replaced a Saxon one placed there by the local landowner, Bercul, who, along with the well close the church may well have given “Berkswell” its name.. The base may well be the original one.

The nave was constructed in about 1050 and the chancel followed shortly afterwards. The eastern part of the crypt too is believed to be from this date. The chancel itself, the chancel arch and the two westernmost of the three arches of the north arcade are very obviously Norman. This is not the exuberant and decorative Norman of, say, Barfreston or Iffley. Arch decoration and capitals are restrained. There is a corbel table around the exterior of the chancel, but the carvings are quite mannered - even dull - compared with the riotous melange at the likes of Kilpeck in Herefordshire. Indeed, so unblemished and conservative are the corbels that initially I suspected a Victorian re-hash!

The chancel has no fewer than five Norman windows at its east end, with the “lancet” design and arrangement of the three lower ones perhaps foreseeing the Early English style to come. In between these windows are carved “stops”.

The south aisle is from about 1350, probably cut into the original nave wall. The easternmost bay of the north arcade is Early English. The walls were raised on c17 or c18 and the clerestory added. The delightful half-timbered porch is c16 and has a parclose room above which, as so often is the case was at one time used as a schoolroom - see Bishop’s Cleeve St Michael and All Angels Church for a particularly delightful example. The tower is a late c15 replacement.

The crypt, however, is Berkswell’s claim to fame. The first surprise is that it is entered from a pew in the north aisle, well back from the more usual position close to the chancel. For this crypt runs along the line of the north aisle as well as the chancel. The oldest part is under the chancel and it is believed that it is probably on the site of an earlier Saxon one. The western end is of a remarkable octagonal plan and was built later in c12. There are two theories as to the chancel’s provenance: one that it was the resting place of St Milred (d.AD772) who was Bishop of Worcester; the other that it is a shrine to St Mildred (d.AD725) who was Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet. The crypt’s windows are all unglazed Norman. There is a remnant of one of two staircases that would have led to the crypt at its eastern end, presumably becoming redundant when the crypt was extended. Part of an earlier wall was also discovered during renovations in 1968. There is a wall running around the wall to seat children and the infirm (hence the expression “the weakest go to the wall”."

SOURCE - (visit link)
Building Materials: Stone

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