This ancient little church is a little gem which I normally drive right past on my way to pick up the grandchildren from school. It sits off the busy A417 which goes from Cirencester to Fairford. Today I decided to stop and have a look around. It was a bit drizzly but I still managed to get some photographs which I will put in a gallery for you to enjoy.
It is very ancient with the remains of a stone cross in the grounds where travelling monks would have given sermons originally. The church itself was built of local limestone rubble around 1250 and it has a very simple interior. Unusually it has a stone screen separating the nave from the chancel, or the people from the altar. It probably had a wooden screen over this with a crucifix on it in the early days. Originally there would have been no furniture or pews, just rushes on the stone floor where the people stood to hear Mass. Most of the windows looked leaded to me and one is particularly unusual as it is set in a single piece of carved stone. There is a very pretty bell tower which has a Sanctus Bell in it made about 1747 in Gloucester by Abel Rudhall. It carries the motto, “Peace and Good Neighbourhood”.
Above there is a very rugged looking wagon vault roof of oak beams.
The oldest things in the church are probably the original stone entrance archway which is now sealed up. On the outside, above this arch there is an ancient carving of a lion stamping on a two-headed serpent, representing good conquering evil. There is a griffon looking on. Apparently it is the only one of its kind in England. Inside the church there is a Norman stone font which is complete. Then there is the beautiful arched door which is ancient and solid made from elm or oak. It has the original metal hinges and handles.
Best of all inside are the remnants of wall paintings which were defaced then plastered over after the reformation. There are intriguing bits of these paintings gradually being revealed but you have to look very hard to make them out. I saw a face which I am sure is the Virgin Mary. I saw a number of saints including St Christopher with the infant Jesus. But try as I might I could not find St George and the dragon who is supposed to be depicted somewhere on the walls.
The history of this simple rural church is like a Disney story. The parish in common with much of England was hit by the Black Death in medieval times. So after 1350 the entire village with its remaining inhabitants was moved to higher ground in a nearby village. Any cottages left fell into ruins. The church was used less and less until eventually it was abandoned. Ivy grew over it until it was entirely covered, disappeared, and was forgotten. Doesn’t it have shades of Sleeping Beauty? A century ago in 1913 it was discovered again and all the ivy removed to reveal this lovely little gem of history. Since then it has been restored but with all its original features preserved.
The churchyard has a little stream running around it and a stone bridge which leads to a little wooded area. Beyond this there is Ampney Brook which was in full flow today. The ancient dry stone walls leading to the church from the brook are still there and I felt strange thinking of all those villagers of long ago who had trodden this same path to get to their little church. Some had maybe lived through the Black Death and floods which were the ruin of their way of life. Today there is a deep peace about the place and I am so glad I stopped to visit the Ivy Church.