48 Pages | over 40 b/w illustrations
Eric Cockain , an architect, believes the Priory Church at Christchurch is a cathedral-sized Saxon church, the only one still standing on its original crypts and foundations. Enlargements, the first of many in 1094, enhanced its proportions without diminishing its Saxon mystique.
Of particular interest to the author is the carving of a gentleman with his magnificent handlebar moustache, ‘Sam’. Who was ‘Sam’ and when was he crafted? Is he a representation of King Harold? Could he be a very early example of a Green Man in England?
Extract from The Saxon face of Christchurch Priory
If only carvings in stone could speak there would be no need to write anything down, the masonry would say it all and what a story it would tell. Let me introduce to you my two principal personages in stone, who tell me all they know about the building of Christchurch Priory Church. They stare, thankfully alone, from their discreet perches, high up in the nave; a nave which I believe was laid down by the Saxons and extended upwards twice with full-height, rhythmically spaced vertical bands to further glorify this most perfect and grandest pre-conquest religious space. Both portray proper human expressions. One is authoritative and stern, the other free in spirit and happy with the bright individuality his face reveals. For centuries worshippers have accepted the discipline suggested by one whilst reaching out with the openness suggested by the other.
Historians have tried to trace the story of how one small Christian chapel grew into a chequerboard pattern of nine equally small chapels tight on the millstream at Christchurch. Many have been convinced that the present grand stone church was up and running by the mid 800s but have been overruled by those who believed this building was built from 1094 foundations upwards by the Normans, directed by an unscrupulous man, Flambard, suspected of shortening a yardstick so that land holdings, and therefore rentals to be paid to his king, were magnified to a point of cruelty towards a defeated English nation.
This powerful Norman gained control of the local purse and, I believe, used this to deflect monies into extending the already fine Saxon church, cleverly using local craftsmen, one of which could well have been the man with the handlebar moustache and staring, eager eyes whom I shall call ‘Sam’ , the other I assume to be Flambard.