St John Baptist, Barnack

As a church crawler opens this churchyard gate and walks up the path, they must think that all their Christmases have come at once, when they see Barnack church tower, and remember their list of characteristic Anglo-Saxon features. Pilaster strips, check. Long-and-short work, check. Triangular headed openings, check. Sculpture with interlace, check. And the tower is topped by a little stone spire c.1200 with dogtooth decoration in the bell-openings.

It gets better; just walk along the S side, as you always should do before entering a church. The S porch has early 13th c. stiff-leaf carvings on the capitals of the entrance, whilst the Dec. S aisle has a ballflower frieze above the windows; to its east the late Perp. S chapel has splendidly emphatic battlements.

If you survive this virtuoso display from the ecclesiologist’s handbook and penetrate inside, you are confronted by a magnificent Saxon tower arch opening into the nave, a characteristic Norman N arcade and stiff-leaf capitals to the slightly later S arcade. But these are not the culmination of your visit; first, go to the south chapel to see a lovely 15th c. Annunciation, with rays streaming down from the Three Persons of the Trinity to Our Lady, kneeling at her prie-dieu.

Now cross to the north aisle. The late Anglo-Saxon sculpted Christ in Majesty was the work of an unknown master a thousand years ago, so it lacks the pain associated with the late medieval suffering Christ. Justly, Pevsner commented, ‘the expression is as human, dignified and gentle as also never again elsewhere for a century’.

Reflect upon Psalm 27.9: ‘My heart hath talked of thee, Seek ye my face. Thy face, Lord, will I seek.’

Grid ref. TF079050

Simon Cotton

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