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Published August 17th 2019
Rare historical carvings saved from destruction
Breedon on the Hill is a small village in Leicestershire, about 25-30 minutes from the nearby cities of Nottingham or Derby. The village is most notable for its parish church, which contains many artefacts of significant architectural and historical value.
Priory Church of St Mary and St Hardulph, Breedon on the Hill
The Church of St Mary and St Hardulph sits on top of Breedon Hill with panoramic views of the surrounding village and countryside. Due to the strategic location of the prominent hill, the site has a long history of human occupation. The current building sits within the remains of an Iron Age fort, and evidence of a monastery dates to the seventh century. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records 'Bredon' as part of lands founded from the minster of Medeshamstede in 676 as part of the Mercian kingdom.
The stone carvings that survive – most positioned for display within select sections of the church walls – are amongst the earliest examples of such carvings. Not only are they remarkable for their age, preservation, artistic merit, and historical significance, but it is remarkable they survived at all through many centuries of change and upheaval. The Anglo-Saxon site was destroyed during the Viking invasion and later became an Augustinian priory after the Norman Conquest which did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Tudor period. The monastic church was later purchased by Francis Shirley as a place of internment for his family, and the present building has many items relating to the Shirley family, including a striking cadaver tomb with a life-size skeleton (made of alabaster).
The carvings are fragments of larger pieces from the original Anglo-Saxon monastery. They include knot patterns, religious figures, people, animals, birds, and lions. There is a large well-preserved piece known as the 'Breedon Angel,' which is housed in the church tower and currently is not on display (there is a photo of it in the church). The church guide to the carvings states that there are around 63 feet of carvings in total.
Other objects of interest include the Norman doorway (located in the north tower) which possibly includes repurposed Anglo-Saxon stones; the Shirley pew dated to 1627; and 16th-century Shirley tombs, including the large monument with its realistic skeleton.
There is a car park at the base of Breedon Hill or on-street parking. The walk to the church is short and not challenging. It is also possible to drive up the hill for parking closer to the church.