Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

St. Mary and St. Harduph Church (Breedon-on-the-Hill)

St. Mary and St. Hardulph is the endlessly fascinating parish church of the North West Leicestershire village of Breedon-on-the-Hill.

It perches precariously on the top of the prominent hill that overlooks the village, and is gradually being quarried away. The church can thus be seen for miles.

The dedication to St. Hardulph is a unique one. Hardulph was a local man, who lived as a hermit in a cave beside the River Trent.

The hilltop site was originally an Iron Age hillfort In the 7th century, and a monastic church was founded here from Peterborough, known at that time as Medehampstead.

The monastery was destroyed by the invading Danes, but was refounded in the 10th century under the monastic reforms of St. Ethelwold.

In the 12th century, there was a new foundation, this time of an Augustinian priory, and traces of this survive in the present day church.

Today, the 13th century chancel of the monastic church constitutes the whole of St. Mary and St. Hardulph's Church, the priory having been dissolved in 1539.

The church is famous throughout the Christian world for the number and quality of its Anglo-Saxon carvings and friezes. These constitute the largest such collection in the British Isles. They date from the 9th century, and were hidden at the time of the Danish invasions. They can be seen, depicting saints and strange creatures, as well as geometrical designs, built into the walls of the church. There is a fine one of the Virgin Mary behind the side altar.

The best known of the carvings is that of the Archangel Gabriel giving a blessing. This, however, cannot be seen by the general public as it is situated in the ringing tower. But a replica now sits at the back of one of the aisles, and is clearly visible.

There are box pews, a gallery and a font, all dating to the last years of the 18th century.

There are also some quite spectacular monuments to members of the Shirley family. The family pew is dated 1627, and constructed of ornately carved wood.

Near the entrance to the nave are fragments of Anglo-Saxon standing crosses.

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