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Church of St John Baptist Church of St John the Baptist Church of St John the Baptist and Attached Railings and Gates Cirencester Church
Cirencester  locality
England  country
United Kingdom  country
Europe  continent
Main date(s)
12th-13th C
51.717546° N, 1.967897° W
OS Grid Reference
SP 02338 02092

Historical Timeline of the Church of St John Baptist

Listed Building Description


SP0202 MARKET PLACE 578-1/4/253 (North side) 14/06/48 Church of St John the Baptist and attached railings and gates (Formerly Listed as: MARKET PLACE (North side) Church of St.John the Baptist) (Formerly Listed as: MARKET PLACE (North side) Church Yard railings and gates to Church Path)


Church. Chancel c1115, enlarged c1180 and 1240 with early C14 and early C15 alterations; St Catherine's Chapel originally C12 north chancel aisle altered and enlarged mid C15 and early/mid C16; Lady Chapel c1240, rebuilt mid C15; Chapel of St John the Baptist originally C12 south chancel aisle altered and enlarged mid C14; Trinity Chapel 1430; aisled nave c1120 and c1240, west end of aisles rebuilt early C14 to accommodate tower buttresses, nave rebuilt except west end of aisles 1515-1530; south porch c1490; west tower early C15. South porch restored 1831-33; complete restoration 1865-7 by Sir George Gilbert Scott including removal of C18 galleries and box pews. Chancel, Lady Chapel, Chapel of St John the Baptist and west ends of aisle naves coursed squared limestone; St Catherine's Chapel, vestry, Trinity Chapel, nave, south porch and west tower limestone ashlar. Chancel, St Catherine's and St John the Baptist's Chapels have stone slate roofs; Trinity Chapel and nave have lead roofs; roof covering to Lady Chapel, south porch and tower not visible, probably lead. 3-bay chancel with St Catherine's Chapel and Lady Chapel to north, Chapel of St John the Baptist and vestry to south; 6-bay aisled nave with Trinity Chapel to north; 3-storey south porch; 3-stage west tower. Chancel: east gable has offset angle buttresses, 5-light lancet window with moulded hood, south wall has two 2-light square-headed clerestory windows with cusped lights, one 2-light pointed window with geometrical tracery. St Catherine's Chapel: east gable has offset angle buttress to north, 4-light window with panel tracery with 4-centred arch head and hoodmould, north wall has four 3-light clerestory windows with Tudor arch heads. Lady Chapel: east gable has offset angle buttresses to north, 5-light window with panel tracery with depressed arch head and hoodmould, embattled parapet with blind tracery and crocketed finials, north wall rebuilt c1820 except east window has 4 three-light pointed windows with panel tracery, to east renewed, largely blocked and different pattern tracery, moulded string with gargoyles and parapet continued from east wall. Vestry: single-storey with 5 single-light windows in splayed reveals to east wall, 3 similar windows to south wall, coped parapet. Chapel of St John the Baptist: east gable has 3-light lancet window with hoodmould, south wall has two 2-light pointed windows with geometrical tracery, small door in splayed reveal, embattled parapet. Trinity Chapel: east gable wall has one 5-light window with panel tracery with Tudor arch head, plinth with moulded top, north-east angle buttress continued above embattled parapet with blind tracery as crocketed finial, north wall has four 4-light pointed windows with panel tracery and hoodmoulds, plinth with moulded top and offset buttresses continued above embattled parapet with blind tracery as crocketed finials. North nave aisle; east gable wall has 5-light lancet window in basket arch opening, embattled parapet with blind tracery and NE angle buttress continued as crocketed finial above parapet, north wall has five 4-light clerestory windows with panel tracery, 4-centred arch heads with hoodmoulds, one similar window to W end 3 lights high, W wall has one 4-light pointed window with panel tracery. North porch: north wall has pointed doorway with moulded stone surround, embattled parapet. South nave aisle: east gable wall has openwork parapet with crocketed finials, south wall has to east of south porch two 4-light clerestory windows with panel tracery and 4-centred arch heads over two 2-light pointed windows with panel tracery and hoodmoulds, one 4-light window, 3-lights high with panel tracery and 4-centred arch head similar to clerestory windows; 2 similar windows to west of south porch; offset buttresses continued as crocketed finials above openwork parapet; west wall has one 5-light pointed window with panel tracery and hoodmould. Nave: east gable wall has 7-light window with panel tracery and 4-centred arch head over chancel arch, openwork parapet with crocketed finials, north and south walls each have six 4-light clerestory windows with 4-centred arch heads, openwork parapet with crocketed finials has sculptures on string course. South porch: 3-storeys high, 3 bays wide and 3 bays deep has traceried panels covering south, east and west walls, to south 3 canted oriel windows to first and second floor 2 and 3-lights wide and 3-lights high with 4-centred arch heads, ground floor has doorway to centre with 4-centred arched head flanked by 2 small doorways with 4-centred arched heads each with some panels above glazed; octagonal stair turrets to north-east and north-west each linked to body of porch at first floor by single-bay bridges with 3-light window with panel tracery and square head with embattled parapet with pointed arch beneath to east and west doors to porch in 4-centred arch openings, to west pair of panelled doors with date and initials 1635 MS IH; offset angle buttresses to all angles of porch and to south front, to south with niches, openwork parapet with crocketed finials. West tower: 3-stage tower has to west wall 5-light pointed window with panel tracery over pointed doorway with moulded stone surround with hoodmould with quatrefoils in spandrels; 2 lower stages of tower formerly concealed by other buildings have blind traceried panels, top stage has similar panels and 3-light pointed louvred window with panel tracery to each face; flying buttresses to east angles built into west walls of nave aisles, offset angle buttresses to west, embattled parapet with blind tracery, crocketed finials. INTERIOR: Chancel: east window in mid C13 moulded arch with shafts carrying stiff-leaf capitals, chamfered arches with shafts to late C13 windows to north and south of sanctuary; chancel widened to south c1180 with 2-bay arcade of which round piers, to west with leaf capital, to east reworked Roman column, survive now with triple chamfered pointed arches, to west infilled by organ; north wall has 2-bay arcade with double chamfered pointed arches of c1420, mid C14 clerestory windows, two of two lights, one single-light with square heads and cusped lights now partially blocked; chancel arch enlarged to present form mid C14; chancel screen mid C16 below with pierced carving between transom and solid panels beneath has canopy added by Scott, raised 1906 and east side carved. Sanctuary has carved stone reredos by Scott; mid C18 mahogany communion rail. St Catherine's Chapel; north wall has early C20 round-headed doorway into Lady Chapel, remnant of original church and originally external, 3-bay pointed arcade with hollow mouldings c1450-60 when Chapel extended east on foundation of Chantry of St Catharine and St Nicholas, wall-paintings of this date of St Christopher to north wall and St Catharine to south wall, early C14 wall paintings to west end of north wall; stone fan-vault dated 1508 donated by Abbot John Hakebourne has bosses with his mitre and initials, royal arms and pomegranate for Catharine of Aragon; late C15 oak screen in contemporary 4-centred arch on mid C13 bases and lower shafts; sanctuary has reredos of 1905 carved in Oberammergau and painted by William Butchart, communion rails and pavement by Ninian Comper. Lady Chapel: rebuilt c1450, timber ceiling with carved bosses and corbels; south wall has bracket for former image of St Nicholas; wall paintings to south wall above arcade include Judgement to west; late C15 oak screen in contemporary 4-centred arch on mid C13 bases and lower shafts; to west C18 marble font. Chapel of St John the Baptist; now choir vestry, organ reconstructed 1897 in case designed by Scott now fills north-west portion of chapel. Trinity Chapel: constructed from 1430, east wall has elaborate reredos with canopied niches, four-bay S arcade with piers of 4 shafts and 4 hollows surmounted by shield-bearing winged angels and with Yorkist badge of falcon and fetterlock at apex of each moulded pointed opening is echoed to north wall; stone-traceried openwork screen with 2 ogee doorways to south; contemporary timber ceiling. Nave: rebuilt 1516-30, of 6 bays with arcade to north and south aisles has tall compound piers with 8 shafts with shields borne by demi-angels carrying arms or merchants' marks of contributors to rebuilding, blind traceried panels to east, north and south walls surrounding and below window over chancel arch and below clerestory windows; east wall has to south of chancel arch small round arch now housing Boleyn Cup, perhaps for a recessed altar off a south transept of church of 1120; Garstang Chapel in south-east corner of south nave aisle mid C15 chantry chapel enclosed by carved oak screen with original iron closing ring to door; rare C15 stone pulpit of wineglass shape has pierced panels with crocketed canopies and pinnacles over ogee arches with tracery, original colour retouched 1865; Perpendicular font, probably C14, octagonal with panelled sides in second bay from west of north arcade removed from church C18 and restored 1865; pews by Scott copied from one surviving original. South Porch; fan vault and early C17 stone dole-table to entrance, 2-storeys above rebuilt as single-height room (not inspected) 1831-3. MONUMENTS: numerous monuments, brasses and wall tablets, wall tablets re-arranged by Scott, monuments include: Lady Chapel, in north-east corner large tomb to Humfry Bridges and his wife, 1598 and 1620, with recumbent effigies under canopy with coffered arch with 2 sons kneeling to either end under separate canopies and 6 daughters to front by Baldwin of Stroud, to south wall semi-reclining effigy of Sir Thomas Master 1680, other tablets and headstones and C15 and C17 brasses. St Catherine's Chapel, recumbent stone effigy of layman or merchant in panelled recess to north of sanctuary. St John the Baptist's Chapel, marble kneeling figures of George Monox, 1638, and his wife, on raised tomb with canopy and broken pediment attributed to Thomas Stanton of Holborn. Trinity Chapel, Bathurst family memorials including first Earl and Countess Bathurst, 1776, with busts by Joseph Nollekens, bust of second Earl Bathurst, 1794, six C15 brasses. Garstang chapel; three busts on entablature to Rebecca Powell, founder of Powell's School, and 2 husbands, 1718. STAINED GLASS: Mediaeval glass largely lost since C18, east window of chancel has mediaeval glass to lower half of 3 central lights imported from Siddington, otherwise made up, partly from fragments, in late C18 by Samuel Lysons; medieval fragments in each window of Trinity Chapel; early C16 glass to south window of south nave aisle; C19 glass by Hardman. Attached railings to right of south porch approximately 2m high, probably C19, have shaped baluster heads, dog bars and matching gate; length of railings and gate attached to south-east corner of vestry and bounding churchyard have sharply pointed tops and dog bars. An exceptional church, the largest parish church in Gloucestershire. The railings and gates to the Church of St. John the Baptist were listed 23.7.71. (The Buildings of England: Verey D: Gloucestershire: The Cotswolds: London: 1970-: PP 161-171; Rowland E Hill: Cirencester Parish Church: Cirencester: 1981-1985; Croome WR: The Stained Glass of Cirencester Parish Church: Cirencester: 1985-).

Listing NGR: SP0231502089

Source: The National Heritage List for England. Reprinted under license.

Description of the Church of St John Baptist

The exterior of Cirencester Parish Church is dominated by its great west tower, begun in 1400, and the south porch known as "Town Hall." The tower's huge spur buttresses were an emergency measure taken in 1405, when it was discovered the foundations were built over a filled-in Roman ditch and were sinking.

The three-story Perpendicular south porch was built in 1490 as a meeting place for the abbey to conduct business with the Royal Commissioners. After the Dissolution, it took on various other functions including Town Hall, and that name has stuck. In 1671, the Bishop of Gloucester granted it to Cirencester Church for parish use.

The plan of Cirencester Church is rather unique, with a shape like a rectangle rather than the usual cross formed of nave and transepts. The Perpendicular nave (built 1515-30) is almost square in shape. It is 17m (57ft) high and well-lit by many large windows in the side aisles and high clerestory.

The pews are Victorian, made of oak and carved with designs copied from medieval originals. The font dates from the 14th century. It was removed from the church in the 18th century and rediscovered in the abbey grounds in 1865. The church's pulpit dates from c.1440 and is notable for its unique open stonework and fragments of decorative painting.

The greatest treasure held by the church is the Boleyn Cup, made of silver gilt for Anne Boleyn in 1535, the year before her execution. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, gave it to her physician, Richard Master, who in turn presented it to Cirencester Church.

The chancel was built in 1115 but has been much altered since. It was widened to the south in 1180 and extended to the east in 1240. The eastern column of the south side is Roman in origin. The stone reredos was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott's son in the 19th century.

To improve the lighting of the chancel, the east window was enlarged from three to five lights in 1300. The glass dates from the 15th and 16th centuries and was positioned in the 20th century.

St Catherine's Chapel occupies the north aisle of the chancel and is set apart for private prayer. It is actually dedicated to four saints: Catherine, Christopher, Nicholas and Anthony. The north wall has a mural of St. Christopher, a giant bearded man with the boy Christ on his shoulder. The fine fan vaulting of the chapel was given to the church after the Dissolution, probably from Cirencester Abbey.

The Lady Chapel dates from 1240, when the cult of the Virgin Mary was especially popular and such chapels were added to churches around the country. The statue of the Virgin next to the altar was donated in thanksgiving for the end of World War II. Over the small Norman arch from St Catherine's Chapel is a faded mural of the Last Judgment, showing a load of souls being pitchforked into hell by the devil. Another historic treasure displayed here is a very ancient Saxon crucifix of unknown origin. It is made of stone and repeats the crucifxion scene on four sides, creating a cross-shape on the top and bottom as well.

The Lady Chapel is dominated by the Bridges Monument, the magnificent tomb of the early 17th-century lawyer Humphrey Bridges, his wife, and eleven children. The couple's effigies lie flat with their hands clasped in prayer; Humphrey looks sober and reverent while his wife looks warm and loving. Across the way is the luxurious, reclining effigy tomb of John Master, a late-17th-century gentleman.

Off the north nave aisle is the Trinity Chapel, built in the 15th century as a chantry chapel. It was founded by Sir Richard Dixton and Sir William Prelatte of the house of the Duke of York, who played a big part in starting the Wars of the Roses in 1455. A medieval stained glass bust of him has is preserved in the chapel's east window.

The area behind the altar in the Trinity Chapel displays brasses collected from around the church, including those of Sir Richard Dixton and of the chantry priest Ralph Parsons (d.1478).

Holly Hayes
April 21, 2012

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