Across the road from Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire is Hailes Church, a small country chapel that predates its more famous neighbor by a half-century. The 12th-century church is small and charming and contains some magnificent 13th-century wall paintings of saints, coats of arms, and hunting scenes.
The early history of Hailes Church is obscure, but it is at least known to date from the 12th century. Two different sources from this period mention a church in Hailes, though it is not known whether they all refer to the same church.
In 1114, William de Tancarville is recorded as giving Hailes Church to the monastery of St. Georges-de-Boscherville near Rouen in France. The Tancarvilles were Chamberlains of Normandy and had their castle on the Seine upriver from Le Havre. They also seem to have been Chamberlains of England and to have owned the manor of Hailes.
Hailes Church is also mentioned in the records of nearby Winchcombe Abbey. One record provides details about a church built at Hailes between 1139 and 1151. They say that Ralph de Worcester had taken over almost the whole district and fortified a castle and built a church at Hailes, summoning the Bishop of Worcester to dedicate it. The monks of Winchcombe Abbey were alarmed at this because it might threaten their parochial rights (which had to do with charging burial dues) at Hailes and tried to prevent him.
The priests of Hailes Abbey paid burial fees to Winchcombe Abbey until 1191, when the priest Simon refused to pay and entered into a dispute with the abbey. In the end, Hailes Church was formally recognized as a "full Mother and Baptismal Church." Hailes still had to pay a fee of seven shillings a year to Winchcombe until 1309, when the payment was exchanged for some lands and tithes.
In 1246, Hailes Abbey was founded by the brother of King Henry III. The monastery was given to monks of the Cistercian order, whose austere rules required them to live "far from the concourse of men." The existing settlement at Hailes was therefore moved to Didbrook a few fields away. All that remained in Hailes was the parish church, which came under Hailes Abbey's jurisdiction in 1248. Hailes Church was thereafter used as the place of worship for visitors, pilgrims and abbey workmen, since the public was not allowed to use the grand church of Hailes Abbey. A monk from the abbey probably led the services at Hailes Church.
Many architectural changes were made to Hailes Church in the 13th century to reflect its new association with Hailes Abbey. The eastern wall of the chancel was reconstructed with a Curvilinear window, the Norman windows in the front were partly blocked, and Early English windows were added to the chancel and nave. The chancel was divided from the nave by a new pointed arch. The font, sedlia and piscina were also added in this period. The piscina is known to be 13th-century because it has two drains: after the Lateran Council of 1216, which defined the doctrine of transubstantiation, the rinsings from the hands of the pirest after he had handled the Eucharist had to have their own drain. The wonderful wall paintings of the church were also added during this time.
The new emphasis on preaching at the Reformation was reflected at Hailes Church with the addition of a new pulpit with sounding board in 1606. A box pew for distinguished members of the congregation was added. The stone altar was smashed and replaced by a communion table placed in the middle of the chancel. The laity were brought into the chancel (previously reserved for clergy) for services, and the pews were placed around the communion table on four sides.
The church fell into some disrepair in later centuries, but in 1767 it was repaired for the sum of £150. In the early 20th century, Hailes Abbey was excavated and Hailes Church was restored by Hugh Andrewes, owner of the estate. This included the placing of the east window, which contains 15th-century glass from Hailes Abbey. Unfortunately it also included the addition of wax and varnish over the wall paintings, which was intended to protect them but in fact did them much harm by trapping moisture. This was finally corrected by a thorough restoration, which included the uncovering of more wall paintings, by Mrs. Eve Baker from 1970 to 1972.
What to See
The small Hailes Church stands on the edge of a field and next to one of the parking lots for Hailes Abbey visitors. It is a simple, aisleless chapel consisting of a nave and chancel. There are no carvings on the exterior. Entrance is through a small south porch.
The most notable feature of Hailes Church is its collection of faded wall paintings, which were added in the 13th century after the church came under the ownership of Hailes Abbey.
The first mural you see upon entering the church is a large mural of St. Christopher, wading in water and carrying a miniature Christ on his shoulder. In the Middle Ages, seeing the image of St. Chrisopher was believed to protect against the most dreaded of fates: death without confession. The saint was therefore painted extremely large and opposite the entrance of churches. (Another notable example is in Toledo Cathedral.)
The other (south) side of the nave is not religious at all, but depicts a familiar scene in the 13th century: the hunt. A huntsman with a horn to his mouth carries a shield with horns and sea urchins. Greyhounds race towards a hare crouched beneath the bare branches of a tree. The huntsman might represent Sampson the Venour, who served Edward I and was made a pensioner of Hailes Abbey by Edward II, or Adam le Hunte, who gave land to the abbey under Edward II.
Above the east window in the chancel are two censing angels and borders of vine leaf scroll and chevrons. The surface of the east walls is scattered with roses.
In the half-blocked windows in the walls of the chancel are two saints who often appear together. St. Catherine of Alexandria, who is painted on the north wall, was an aristrocratic and well-educated Christian lady who refused the advances of Emperor Maximin, defeated pagan philosophers in a debate, was tortured on a spiked wheel that was shattered by angels, and finally beheaded by Maximin. She is the patroness of learning and teachers. The painting shows her high class through her clothing and her learning through the book she holds. Beneath her foot is the crowned head of Emperor Maximin. A monk with a scroll sits at the bottom left.
St. Margaret of Antioch, who appears on the south wall, was the daughter of a pagan priest. Converted to Christianity, she became a sheperdess and refused the advances of a Roman governor. He threw her in a dungeon, where Satan attacked her in the form of a dragon. The dragon swallowed her, but she split the dragon's belly open with her cross and emerged safely. This made her the patron saint of childbirth. In this image at Haiels, she is shown thrusting the cross down the throat of the dragon before it can swallow her up. Around the window are red squares intended to look like undecorated masonry, a very popular feature at the time.
At the top of the north and south walls of the chancel, between the timbers that support the rafters, runs a painted frieze. The frieze is very faded, but consists of figures (probably apostles and biblical figures) within a framework of alternating round and pointed arches with pinnacles in between.
Elsewhere in the chancel, especially around the windows, are figures from the medieval bestiary, including unicorns and griffins (body of a lion with head of an eagle). On the north wall is an elephant with wings and unrealistic head charging a griffin. Nearby are a hare and goat in combat (armed with shields), which is a scene from the Queen Mary Psalter. Another spandrel bears the painting of a unicorn (an emblem of virginity) chasing a dragon (symbolizing evil). On the south wall is a basilisk (whose stare was deadly) and a griffin, separated by a bare fruit tree. On the west wall of the chancel is a leopard. Above the sedilia is a short-eared owl, which represented sin, darkness, pagans and Jews, being attacked by another bird.
Other paintings are heraldic arms of pilgrims and patrons of Hailes Abbey, especially that of the founder of Hailes Abbey, Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of Henry III. His double-headed eagle appears in the south wall and north wall of the chancel and around the stairway to the rood-loft. The arms of his three successive wives, all renowned for their beauty, also appear in Hailes Church.
The baptismal font dates from the 13th century and has eight sides to represent regeneration. The 13th-century piscina has two drains, signifying its construction after the doctrine of transubstantiation was confirmed in 1216. The priest washed his hands after handling the Eucharist over one drain, and cleaned the chalice over another.
The stained glass in the east window dates from the 15th century and was originally displayed in Hailes Abbey. In 1789, the glass was taken from Hailes Abbey and installed in the church of the nearby Toddington estate. In the early 1900s, Hugh Andrewes, then owner of Toddington estate, installed the glass in Hailes Church as part of its restoration.
The yellow stain and "short, ungraceful" character of the figures indicates the window's 15th-century date. Depicted are nine of the twelve apostles, with sentences from the Apostles' Creed inscribed above them. This reflects an early tradition that each article of the Creed was composed by a particular apostle.
The floor tiles in the chancel were moved here from Hailes Abbey after the Dissolution of the Monasteries (16th century). They are laid out randomly and are a mix of different styles and centuries. Many of them are heraldic, centered around Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and his connections. Other tiles are decorative, including one with the Christian fish symbol.
Quick Facts on Hailes Church
|Names:||Hailes Church; Hailes Parish Church|
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|Coordinates:||51.969806° N, 1.928047° W (view on Google Maps)|
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- Personal visit (May 6, 2007)
- Lord Sudeley, A Guide to Hailes Church: Near Winchcombe Gloucestershire (available at Hailes Abbey shop)
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