St Mary’s Church and Tower, Berkeley, Gloucestershire

St Mary’s is a Grade 1 Listed 13th century church, with the core of the current building dating from 1225 – 1250. All that remains of the earlier Norman church is the south door and the font, which was built for the total immersion of infants. To the north of the main door is a painted 13th century consecration cross. The chancel was extended in about 1300. The north door dates from the 14th century.

The wall paintings date from 13th – 14th centuries, the time when the nave and aisles were built. During a restoration of the church carried out in 1865/6 by Messrs Clayton and Bell under the supervision of Sir George Gilbert Scott, many layers of whitewash and plaster were removed from the walls. The current patterns are reproductions of the originals.

The church suffered damage to the north and west doors during the Civil War when it formed part of the defences of the nearby Berkeley Castle.

A local legend tells the tale of the Witch of Berkeley, whose strenuous attempts to frustrate her pact with the devil were ultimately unsuccessful.

There are very few marks on the interior of the church, although a single compass-drawn circle was present and two triangles were noted, possibly mason’s marks.

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The  square, lead-lined Norman font contains two large Marian marks and a butterfly cross inscribed in the lead of the interior. It is tempting to think that these were intended to protect infants being baptised from the baleful influence of the Witch of Berkeley.

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With the exception of the above, the majority of interesting marks are to be found on the exterior of the church. Notable features on the south side of the church include a scratch dial, a large double concentric circle and on the east side of one of the external pillars is an outline of a (left) hand, pressed against the stone with the fingers spread out and pointing upwards. Numerous initials can also be found.

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St Mary’s is unusual in that it has a separate tower,  built in 1753 on the site of an earlier plinth that dates to the 15th century.

There is a compass drawn circle and numerous initials and dates on the exterior of the tower, which is notable for having two distinct graffitos of ships, of the type that plied their trade on the nearby River Severn, which by the end of the 17th century had become the second busiest river in Europe. The barges were known as ‘Trows’ and by 1756 there were 350 operating on the Severn and in the Bristol Channel.

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The church is  normally open during daylight hours. The tower is locked. Further information can be found here.

Church Lane
GL13 9BN

Report by Linda Wilson

Search terms: consecration cross, circle (compass drawn), circle (concentric), cross, triangle, masons mark, Marian marks, butterfly cross, font, scratch dial, mass dial, hand, initials, I (crossed), animal (incomplete), ship grafitti, 1826, 1700s.