Church Monuments Society



Month: February 2024
Type: Effigy  
Era: 13th Century

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St John the Baptist
Avon Dassett, Southam CV47 2AH

More about this monument

The coffin lid of a deacon who served as rector of the church

Avon Dassett in the Stratford district of Warwickshire nestles among the Burton Dassett Hills about four miles east of Kineton and seven miles north of Banbury in Oxfordshire. Its church of St John the Baptist was declared redundant in 1983 and is under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust. In the north wall of the chancel is a recess with an ogee arch and ballflower moulding, indicating a date in the second quarter of the fourteenth century (Fig. 1). Within it, but not originally belonging to it, is a Romanesque stone coffin with a lid of Forest Marble, a shelly limestone which takes a polish. The coffin has short columns at the middle and both ends.

The edge of the lid is moulded. Within, carved in high relief, is the effigy of a deacon with a tonsure (Fig. 2). He is dressed in ecclesiastical vestments, including a cassock, an alb, a dalmatic, a maniple, and a stole. His left arm is folded across his chest with the palm outwards, while his right hand holds a scroll, which turns up at the bottom. There is no sign of carved lettering on it, suggesting that the inscription might have been painted. Perhaps it carried his name.

The figure is represented in a canopy with a round head surmounted by tabernacle work depicted as a hall between two lower wings or extensions, all with round-headed windows and gabled roofs having ball finials at the apices (Fig. 3). It is flanked by half-round pilasters having moulded capitals that carry semi-octagonal turrets with similar windows and ball-tipped cupolas. This is almost certainly intended to represent the holy city of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-11:5). It can be paralleled on a few other Romanesque grave slabs and effigies in England. One such is the Tournai marble slab in Ely Cathedral showing the soul of Bishop Nigel (d. 1169) being carried to Heaven (Fig. 4). At Peterborough Cathedral several effigies to abbots dating between 1195 to 1225 carved from Alwalton marble have the same imagery (Fig. 5)

The moulded bases are supported on ball-tipped tapering corbels level with the feet of the effigy. Below this is a carving of a half-ring of trefoil leaves within which is a small tortoise which is biting one of the leaves (Fig. 6). The significance of this is unclear although one suggestion is that it could be a rebus for the man’s family name. The cist shows one long side divided into two bays by angle and intermediate half-round pilasters with moulded capitals and bases, between upper and lower chamfered courses.

It is thought that this is the coffin of Hugh (or Hugo), rector of the church, who died in about 1240. This does not conflict with him being depicted as a deaons. Deacons were allowed to serve as rectors before 1274.

Sally Badham