Monday, 21 January 2013

St Michael, Cropthorne

Cropthorne lies mid-way between Evesham and Pershore, and is known for its many fine half-timbered houses. Its church has a charming interior and some impressive monuments.

The church has Saxon origins: the village had a royal hunting lodge, and was presented to the Priory of Worcester by King Offa of Mercia in 786AD. The core of the church we see today was built around 1100-1180, from which survive the nave arcades of plain round arches, and the lower part of the tower. The chancel arch was rebuilt around 1200, along with the western part of the chancel. The aisles were widened and the chancel extended in the 14th century. The clerestory, upper parts of the tower and the porch were added in the 15th century, giving the church its present form.

The interior is charming, but the real interest comes from fixtures and fitting of unusual quality. Pride of place goes to a Saxon cross-head, richly carved with zoomorphic and foliage designs. Dating from around 800AD, it is one of the finest surviving examples of its type in Britain. The north aisle has a fine 14th century tomb recess with a possibly older memorial slab. This is carved with an incised cross, chalice and a hand raised in blessing, suggesting it was for a priest.

Nearby are two fine 17th century tombs, of two generations of the Dingley family. The older tomb, to Francis (d. 1624) and Elizabeth, has fine coloured effigies, Francis in full Jacobean-style armour. The base is charmingly decorated with their 19 children in mourning: three cots indicate children who died in infancy, and two of the daughters were evidently twins. Adjacent is the grand, canopied tomb of Francis's grandson Edward (d. 1646) and his wife Joyce. They face each other kneeling, in mourning dress.

Some of the pews date from the 15th century and have tracery decoration. Finally, a much damaged wall painting above the nave arcade, said to depict St Christopher the Hermit, dated to the 1300s.

The church is the centre of a busy parish of five villages, with regular services (see website for details).

St Michael's Church, Main Street, Cropthorne, Pershore, Worcestershire WR10 3LU