Head and Foot
The South Cerney Head and Foot
In 1912, medieval carvings of a head and foot - fragments of a figure of Christ crucified - were unearthed during restoration work in All Hallows Church. They were found in a chamber in the nave wall adjacent to the tower arch where, presumably, the crucifix as a whole had been hidden during a period of religious intolerance.
They are now housed in the British Museum with replicas on display in All Hallows Church.
The carvings are generally acknowledged as the earliest of their type to be found in Britain, as well as being of considerable artistic merit and craftsmanship. But when they were created and how they came to in South Cerney remains open to debate and ongoing investigation.
Here we report on the latest findings concerning the parish's most celebrated artefacts.
Be sure to check back here for the latest developments.
2012-2016: Centenary search uncovers fresh wood fragment
The centenary of the carvings' original discovery prompted Trust member Tony Squire (also an All Hallows' church warden) to initiate a fresh search of the chamber where the carvings were found. The aim was to find further evidence of the Romanesque rood screen which may have housed them, and to record the work for the benefit of future generations. Curiously, the 1912 discovery was never properly documented.
With the help of a local team, and armed with the necessary church permissions, a cautious re-opening of the archway chamber was begun revealing an additional wood fragment among the rubble. This was removed under the supervision of professional conservators and submitted for analysis at the beginning of 2016.
Radio-carbon dating and electron microscopy provided by the University of Oxford and the British Museum established - with 94.4% probability - that the 'new' fragment is from the same period (1039-1210) as the carvings and that all three pieces are of lime wood (tilia europaea linden).
The microscopy procedure even found evidence of a 1000 year old wood boring insect entombed inside.
Is this fragment part of the original rood screen setting? Or of the crucifix itself? If so, then perhaps more clues as to the carvings' history and makeup may still be awaiting discovery.
Certainly it is an encouraging find and, as a result, investigations are set to continue. However there is no specific time frame as the work is undertaken within an agreed archaeological framework and is dependent on funds being available to cover the professional help required.
Richard Marks - From Langford to South Cerney: The Rood in Anglo-Norman England.
Download a PDF of this key paper with kind permission of the author.
Michael Oakeshott - All Hallows, South Cerney.
Michael Oakeshott - Fertile Fields and Small Settlements, a History of South Cerney and Cerney Wick.
Both books by Michael Oakeshoot are available to buy here.