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St Mary’s church, Breamore

Post code: SP6 2DF OS Grid Ref: SU153189 Coordinates: 50°58'09"N 1°46'59"W CoE CHR No: 641193

Exterior of St Marys, Breamore Photo 1 - St Mary's, Breamore.

Breamore was founded in Saxon times as a Minster church on a possible Royal estate set within a large enclosure. It served as the mother church for several nearby villages until the mid 12 th century when it became, and remains today, Breamore’s parish church. The village is recorded in the Domesday Survey as being owned by the king. The design of the building dates it to the end of the 10 th or beginning of the 11 th century, although it is of a particularly large size for this period. It is typically cruciform shape consisting of nave, crossing (with tower above) north and south porticus (chapels) - instead of the more usual transepts - and chancel.

In the mid-12 th century, a south porch was added with an Agnus Dei roundel. Further remodelling took place in the 14 th century and the north porticus was demolished a century later. In the 16 th century the Saxon Rood, which had been re-sited to an external position above the south porch, was now enclosed by raising the porch roof. The wall paintings, see Photo 2, around the Rood and on the other walls were added at this time.

16th Century Wall Painting Photo 2 - Wall painting near the Saxon Rood.

This ancient church has retained many of its original features including the arch of the south porticus with its unusual inscription in Old English (not Latin) “HER SWUTELATH SEO GECWYDRAEDNES THE”. The translation is debated but the version given by the church guide is “Here is manifested the word to thee” (Photo 3). Another small part of an inscription survives above the chancel arch on its west face.

Old English inscription on arch Photo 3: Old English inscription over the arch

Very little early graffiti was found within the church, no doubt due to the many alterations that have taken place to the fabric. The most significant concentrations of older graffiti are found on the exterior, on two adjacent stone blocks on the west side of the porch. These are covered with initials (Photo 4), many dating to the late 17 thcentury. Traditionally, the church porch was where parish business was carried out so these dated initials could mark a significant local event.

Examples of initials on west side of the porch. Photo 4: Examples of initials on west side of the porch.

Other features, not officially graffiti, were also recorded, including two mass dials (Photo 5) and an Ordnance Survey benchmark.

Heavily weathered mass dial Photo 5: Heavily weathered mass dial.

On the north east face of the north west buttress are two deeply incised crosses with serifs on the lower three arms and a hook shape resembling the open top of a letter P carved on the top arm of each. (Photo 6). These symbols are known as staurograms, combining the Greek letters Tau and Rho, and are a Christian symbol representing the crucifixion.

Tau Rho symbol Photo 6: A Tau Rho symbol.

More recent graffiti was found in the vestry, around the east doorway. This consists of pencil markings, perhaps made to guide the construction of the door arch, with lines and circles at the edges of the individual blocks. Two vertical lines incised into the keystone of the door arch may be a mason’s original marking out lines (Photo 7).

Possible mason's mark by vestry door Photo 7: Possible mason's marks.

140 photographs were taken during the survey. All images and record sheets are held by the Hampshire Field Club Medieval Graffiti Project archive and are available on request. A copy of this report has been lodged with the Hampshire Historic Environment Record and with the church and will be made available on the Southampton Archaeology Society and Hampshire Field Club websites

See further images and read the fuller pdf report.

Survey date: 17th September 2022.

Surveyors: Sarah Hanna, Julian Porter, Sue and Derek Stewart, Karen Wardley, Brian & Joan Webb