The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

St James’ Church, Avebury, Wiltshire

OS grid reference: SU 0991 6990. In the village of Avebury close to the manor house and just 100 metres west of the famous stone circle, stands St James’ Church, a building that is of Anglo-Saxons origins. Located on Church Walk, just north of High Street, in the centre of this charming village, but outside of the pagan stone circle. Christianity came late to Avebury – due, perhaps, to the allure of the 3 pagan stone circles standing within a sizable circular enclosure, covering 24 acres, 1,400 feet across, and nearly 1 mile in circumference which virtually surrounds the village, its grassy bank being upto 5 metres high and the ditch about 25 metres wide. The stone circles date from the late Neolithic between 2,900 to 2,500 BC. When Christianity did finally arrive here in about 1000 AD the people were ‘still very slow’ in adapting from their heathen ways to something much more profound, fulfilling and everlasting. The church houses a beautiful medieval tub font which is carved with a superb dragon, a depiction of paganism (the Devil) being stamped on and a new religion, Christianity, being heralded in. There is also a fragment of an Anglo-Saxon cross and a number of other ‘quite delightful’ architectural things to see inside the church. Avebury is 6 miles east of Marlborough on the A4 (Bath Road) and 8 miles from the town of Chippenham in the west, again on the A4 road. Stonehenge is 17 miles south, close to the A303 road, near Amesbury.

St James parish church is largely Norman although there are some earlier, Saxon features, in particular the two round-headed windows in the Saxon nave wall, while the three rather odd-looking circular, porthole windows at a higher level, are late Anglo-Saxon or perhaps early Norman? There’s also a very interesting squint hole. The church was probably added to in the 12th century. Also, there is a partly restored 15th century rood loft, but sadly the rood itself was destroyed during the atrocities of the Reformation. At the north-west corner embedded in the wall part of an Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft with carvings. The tower with its stair-turret is 15th century Perpendicular. At the south-side a superb Norman doorway which, according to the author Simon Jenkins in his delightful book ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’, 2000, “offers a lovely composition of foliated capitals and a zigzag arch beneath an empty saint’s plinth.” But the best antiquity here is undoubtedly the 12th century tub font with its beautiful early Norman carvings. Restoration to St James’ was carried out in the 19th century.

The font dates from the early 12th century and is exquisitly carved with a Christian figure that appears to be ‘stamping out paganism’ and heralding in the new religion with “one” eternal God. A bishop or ecclesiastic wearing a “short skirt” is depicted with his crozier in one of the intersecting arches stamping on a winged serpent (dragon) with a long never-ending curling tail which, at the same time is biting his foot or cloak; this is an obvious reference to the battle between the established ‘serpent-power’ worship of the pre-Christian temple at Avebury, and the new Christianity, according to Janet & Colin Bord in their book Mysterious Britain, 1984. Quite clearly it can be seen as ‘the Devil’ getting his final come-uppance and Christianity securing its position as the true and everlasting faith. There is a second serpent with a long curling tail. The font is also adorned around the bottom with columns that have bands or cords shooting out from their tops to form the intersecting ‘domed’ arches.


Janet & Colin Bord, Mysterious Britain, Paladin (Granada Publishing Ltd)., London, 1984.

Jones, Lawrence E. & Tricker, Roy., County Guide To English Churches, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berkshire, 1992.

Darvil, Timothy., Ancient Britain, AA Publishing Division, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988.

Anderton, Bill., Guide To Ancient Britain, W. Foulsham & Co Ltd., London, 1991.

Ashe, Geoffrey., Mythology Of The British Isles, Methuen, London, 1993.

Click on for images of the church

Click on for images of the church

Author: sunbright57

I am interested in holy wells, standing stones and ancient crosses; also anything old, prehistoric, or unusual.

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