“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.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Nether Wallop Pyramid

Nether Wallop is a village in Hampshire (9 miles south west of Andover). The village's only real claims to fame are that it may have been the site of the Battle of Guoloph (circa 439), and that locations in the village were often used in the dreadfully dull "Miss Marple" films.

The village does however have a rather striking  feature and this can be found in St Andrew’s churchyard. The churchyard is home to an intriguing fifteen foot tall stone pyramid!

The pyramid covers a vaulted burial chamber and is known as the “Douce Mausoleum”. This Grade II listed structure was built for the physician Dr Francis Douce (1675-1760) in 1748 and was designed by John Blake of Winchester. The pinnacle of the pyramid is capped off with a flaming torch, and one side of the pyramid bears a tablet which holds a coat of arms and an inscription. As you can see from the pictures below, the pyramid looks rather out of place in a British village churchyard.

St Andrew's Church
The Douce Mausoleum.
Inscription on the side of the pyramid.
The pinnacle of the pyramid.
View from the churchyard.
The Douce Mausoleum is not the only treasure to be found at St Andrew’s churchyard. The church itself contains the remains of  frescoes, the earliest of which is believed to date from the late Anglo-Saxon period. The Anglo-Saxon fresco in St Andrew's church is believed to be the only Anglo-Saxon wall painting to survive in situ and in the style of the “Winchester School” of manuscript illuminators who worked around the year 1020. The frescoes inside the church include:

"Christ in Majesty"

It seems that in late Saxon times that it was customary to paint a “Christ in Majesty” over the chancel arch of a church, and the example in St Andrews church is estimated to date from 1025. The original St Andrews “Christ in Majesty” was a depiction of a seated Christ, with his right hand raised in benediction, and surrounded by a host of angels adorned with halos. Today the bottom two angels are still visible, however the centre part of the fresco has been destroyed. This is believed to have occurred in Norman times, when the chancel arch was widened.

Inside St Andrew's church, looking towards the "Christ in Majesty".
A description of the "Christ in Majesty"
The bottom two angels of the "Christ in Majesty". 
The "Sabbath Breakers"

The "Sabbath Breakers" is a 15th century morality painting depicting the potential religious dangers of breaking the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day, and to keep it holy....”.  The fresco shows Christ who has been injured by a number of wounds. Christ is surrounded by the implements of different trades, which include a plough, a mill wright’s tools, a cobbler’s awl and knife, a slater’s zax, a traders scales, a saw, a bobbin of yarn, an axe, a catapult, a net, and a horse shoe. These tools are presumably the source of Christ’s wounds, as the tradesmen who own them had been working on the Sabbath day.

The "Sabbath Breakers" explained.
"The Sabbath Breakers".
Saint George and the Dragon

The church also has a fresco of Saint George and the Dragon (circa 15th century). This fresco shows Saintt George mounted on his horse fighting the Dragon outside the gates of a settlement, whilst two crowned figures (presumably a King and a Queen) look on. In this blog I have previously noted that legends of Saint George and the Dragon are associated with Dragon Hill near Uffington in Oxfordshire, so perhaps the settlement depicted in this fresco is the old Iron Age fort at Uffington?

Saint George fighting the dragon. 

Saint Nicholas and a Bell

St Andrew's church also contains two other frescoes. One is a depiction of Saint Nicholas near one of the windows, the second is a bell (circa 18th century) high up near the church roof.

Saint Nicholas.
A bell.
So if you ever happen to be in the locale of Nether Wallop in Hampshire, take the opportunity to visit St Andrew's church and see a pyramid and some original Anglo-Saxon artwork for free. If you are a real anorak you can also seek out the village's "Miss Marple" heritage, just do not admit to anyone that you have done it!

Pictures, Hampshire (February 2014).

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