Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

Breedon-on-the-Hill Priory Church, Leicestershire

Dramatic Setting of Breedon's Priory Church

Dramatic Setting of Breedon Priory Church GH06010The Priory Church of Breedon on the Hill is perched in a dramatic setting on the edge of its man-made cliff. It cannot be missed if the traveller avoids the new road to Birmingham (A/M42) and instead uses the old A453. The church appears on the horizon in front and stays in view for several miles as it passes by on the west of the road.

The hill top has been inhabited for perhaps three thousand years since the Iron Age. There are substantial earthworks of an Iron Age fort from around the first century BC. They are known locally as the “Bulwarks” but much of the eastern side of the enclosure and boundary has been lost by the quarrying of limestone. The hill top setting of the fort and subsequent monastic community would always have been dramatic but the quarrying has resulted in a much more spectacular setting for the church close to the edge of the man-made cliff. However it does mean that a lot of archaeology has been lost including a Saxon cemetery and monastic cells.

Nave of Breedon Priory Church LD06023The first Christian monastery at Breedon was established in the final quarter of the seventh century, probably in 676. It was founded by King Aethelred, third son of the first Christian king of Mercia. Like many Christian communities it took over the previously important pagan sites. In early Christianity Breedon was very important as in 731, Tatwin a priest at Breedon was made Archbishop of Canterbury.

In its heyday the Priory at Breedon would have been extensive with a major monastic church. Little remains of that community but the existing church incorporates some of best Saxon carving in Britain. The highlight is the Breedon Angel, believed to be the Angel Gabriel, making a Byzantine style blessing. It is in the bell ringing chamber of the tower but there is a modern replica at the west end of the south aisle of the nave which is more accessible for the casual visitor.

Remains of Saxon Christianity

Breedon Angel, Saxon LD06032There is much to enjoy and reflect on in the church including some impressive memorials to the Shirley family in the north aisle. They are carved in Chellaston Alabaster from a few miles north of the site. The visitor should buy a copy of Brian C.J. William’s booklet Story of St. Mary and St. Hardulph Church(just £3 in the honesty box) to guide them around the church as there is so much to see.

Apart from the famous Breedon Angel , there are many pieces of Saxon carving from the 8th—10th century church, lead encased to protect it from the damp, set into the walls of the south aisle. It is now all inside the building but some would have decorated the outside of the Saxon church. There is around sixty feet of frieze, the most extensive collection in Britain, which would have formed bands around the church both inside and out. In the Lady Chapel at the east end of the south aisle there is particularly well preserved set of human figures.

The existing church is only part of the original monastery church and includes 12th, 13th and 15th century features with other additions. The octagonal font is also 15th century with well-carved heraldic decoration Several times in the past the church has come close to being lost as there many reports of it being dilapidated and in a "ruinous state".

Breedon Priory Church LD06052Tranquility and Contemplation

Fortunately it has survived and now provides the village at the foot of the hill with its parish church and a tranquil place for contemplation whatever one’s spiritual beliefs. There are panoramic views of the Charnwood Forest and across towards the River Trent but of course the modern world is visible, but not intrusive, as one can see the control tower and buildings of East Midlands Airport to the North.

Lovers of travel and exploration at a natural pace should explore the old winding road towards Birmingham rather than the soulless modern highway. The diversion to visit Breedon Priory Church is very much in the spirit of The Winding Way and is an ideal opportunity to slow down and put the rush of the modern world in its proper place.

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