Welcome to St James
This church is one of eight that make up our welcoming benefice and has been a place of worship for over 1500 years. St James Avebury was a departure point for pilgrims on their way to the port of Bristol for embarkation for Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem.
We pray you find peace here,
We pray you find God’s love here,
We hope you will rest a while and know you are welcome home.
Mrs Elizabeth Daley
This exceptional church stands beside Avebury Manor, a stone’s throw from the great henge and standing stones that draw thousands of visitors to Avebury each year. Historical research has confirmed the existence of a Christian monastic settlement in Avebury from as early as the 3rd Century AD and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Avebury is recognised as having had a spiritual significance for locals and travellers for over 5000 years. Visitors today of many nationalities and faiths may be seeking to understand the spiritual nature of this unique place. A church within a henge has become a beacon for pilgrims and seekers and more recently a focus for the fostering of peace and understanding between faiths, as the church hosts the Hiroshima Peace Flame for as long as the community can keep it lit.
The oldest part of the church is Anglo-Saxon, stone built in the 9th century, replacing an older wood and mud building. The NAVE was without aisles and two of its original windows are preserved in the Anglo-Saxon walling at the west end of the nave. These were unglazed and were closed in bad weather by wooden shutters wedged into a rebate cut into the outer edge of the window. High up in the north wall of the nave are three Anglo-Saxon circular windows, probably the upper storey. The ring of holes drilled round them held wattle rods used in the construction of the windows.
The Church Grows
Aisles were first added in the 12th century. On each side of the nave two low arched openings pierced through the existing walls gave access to the aisles. These openings were swept away when the present arcade was put in in 1812, but the Norman angle-shafts to the responds can be seen in the wall at each end of the arcade. In the 15th century wider aisles were built, the Norman south doorway moved out to its present position and a porch was built. At the east end of each aisle is a squint giving a view of the altar. One of these is a very rare squint passage which, prior to the installation of choir pews, would have allowed access to the altar. In the North aisle the west wall contains a 13th century lancet window. The south wall of this aisle was at first the outside wall of the church and the rough area of plaster above the Anglo-Saxon window is the original exterior plaster of the Anglo-Saxon church. The wooden box chest is dated 1634. There are some medieval tiles (13th-14th century) on the floor near it and also a few in the south aisle.
The wooden balcony in the nave is the 15th century rood loft, one of the very few which have survived. When removed, probably early in the reign of Elizabeth I, it was carefully hidden behind a lath and plaster covering against the east wall of the nave, discovered there in 1812 and since repainted. The wooden screen below the loft is Victorian.
The tower is 15th century. On its floor stands the Norman font (early 12th century). The Font Figure has long been the subject of speculation and debate. However, recent research identifies the carving as being that of St Michael, on an original Saxon font, over-cut by Norman carvings and 16th century desecration. St Michael is also depicted on the font at Winterbourne Monkton, but the Avebury font carving is far earlier than that of Winterbourne Monkton and the saint is depicted as holding a crozier- not a symbol of Episcopal power but rather cosmic, supernatural power. The carvings show two serpents with twisted tails, their heads turned towards the figure of a bishop or Archangel Michael holding a crozier; popular pictures in the middle-ages showed Christ trampling on the dragons of evil and sin. It is also worth noting that the tree, carved in one piece, 12 pillars of wood/ tree trunks circling the font contains a wonderful array of birds.
On the south wall is the funeral hatchment of Lt. General Sir Adam Williamson, KB, of Avebury Manor, appointed Governor of Jamaica 1790 (who died in 1798). On the north wall are the royal arms of George III, 1760-1820. The stone coffin is 13th-14th century and is one of three found by the south wall of the chancel, probably those of Priors of the adjacent Benedictine Priory.
The bells are in regular use, restored in 1981. The oldest bell is the tenor, cast in 1719 by Avebury-born Richard Phelps, master of the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry 1701-1738.
The chancel and chancel arch are late 13th century. The choir stalls contain some 17th century woodwork. The altar rails are early 18th century. The Bishop’s chair is mid-17th century. The tablet on the south wall is to John Truslow of Truslow Manor (who died in 1593) – Truslow Manor lies at the west end of the bridle path. The tablet on the north wall is to Dame Susanna Holford (who died in 1722). She was the widow of Sir Richard Holford of Avebury Manor and left money for the foundation and endowment of a school in Avebury for children ‘whose parents are not able to teach them to read’.
Set in the east wall of the porch is a fragment of Norman 12th century carved stone. On the outside of the church tower some large stones can be seen in the wall. This is an example of Anglo-Saxon side-alternative quoining, being the cornerstones of what was then the north-west corner of the Anglo-Saxon nave. Here too, built into the wall, is a fragment of Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft of an earlier date.
Recent Discoveries and Hidden Pilgrim History
In 2014 Martin Palmer of the ARC Foundation assisted us in understanding more about the hidden history of St James Avebury and the other 7 churches in the Upper Kennet Benefice
In particular, he drew our attention to the West Door of the St James’ where we find the remains of two pilgrim’s cockle shells, the symbol of Santiago (St James). These were, in the past, mistaken for a coat of arms. Full carved cockleshells in very good condition are found on either side of the South facing Main door (internal) – a door protected by a later porch
Between the 10th and 16th century Pilgrims staying overnight at Fyfield, Winterbourne Basset and Berwick Basset came to St James Avebury for an early morning service. After Mass and Blessing they left on Pilgrimage to Santiago Di Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem through the West door of the church, with the Saint’s blessing protecting them
An Anglo-Saxon carving external to the church, long held as being something related to land ownership, is a rare and stylised version of the cockle shell. This early depiction of badge of the Palmers, located on the external North wall of the church, is either 10th or 11th century – marking a time when at last one could go on pilgrimage i.e. towards the end of the Anglo Saxon and beginning of the Norman period. This emblem would once have featured as part of the original door to the church.
The Church was refaced by the Victorians so there is little more to be seen externally. However, the cusp is Norman, not a grave stone as originally thought and is a deliberate emblem and sign of the Pilgrim’s way. The external surfaces of the Tower have some crosses of pilgrimages to both Jerusalem and Santiago Di Compostela but very few in comparison to other churches in the Benefice. Most of the pilgrimage graffiti and other evidence were removed during the Victorian period. Recently, however, we have discovered some rare 15th century footprints embedded in the lead roof which are being investigated
Interior Walls: Crosses, and ‘circle and cross’ depiction of Spiritual Cosmology which Martin also found at Winterbourne Basset. These paint a vivid and moving medieval view of the universe. Consisting of 5 individual rings, the central circle depicts Jerusalem, the site of the Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (and thus the birth place of Christianity). The second circle depicts the human world, followed by a 3rd circle of angels, a 4th circle of Archangels, then the 5th circle of the Universe, cut through by a single line – representing the hand of God pointing downwards towards the Earth, sending the Holy Spirit onto Christ. Here in Avebury the Cosmic Circle was rather crudely made, perhaps begun by a priest, and never finished.
Medieval letters carved into the wall circa 1500 are almost certainly a Latin inscription. Surrounded by a large number of pilgrim’s crosses is another inscription and the wall is riddled with pilgrim graffiti.
There are remains of a large Celtic Cross on floor of Nave –broken into pieces and distributed for incorporation into the floor of the church. A major part of it is missing giving rise to much speculation.
Set up in 2009 this shop is run by the Community for the Community. Run by volunteers with surplus profits going to local charities.
Follow their facebook page for opening times and to see if you can help.
Avebury Parish Council represents the interests of local residents, employers and employees. About 480 people live in 235 homes in the historic village of Avebury and its associated settlement of Avebury Trusloe, and in the nearby hamlets of Beckhampton and West Kennett.
The landscape in and around Avebury contains some of the most important surviving prehistoric archaeological monuments in the British Isles. Since its inscription on the World Heritage List, jointly with Stonehenge in 1986, the principal prehistoric sites within this landscape have been universally acknowledged as of international cultural significance.
The whole Parish is in the World Heritage Site and also in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, lying near the edge of the Marlborough Downs. In addition parts of the Parish have been designated Conservation Areas.
All meetings are open to members of the public to find out the dates and to find out about what the council does, please visit our website.
For ever, for everyone.
St James is situated in the heart of the world heritage site so we work closely with the National Trust who manage the stone circle, the manor house and the museum.
If you live here and would like to know what is going on or you are a visitor who would like to know what events are taking place and where to stay, their Avebury page offers a wealth of information.
The Women’s Institute (WI) was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. Since then the organisation’s aims have broadened and the WI is now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK. The WI celebrated its centenary in 2015 and currently has almost 220,000 members in approximately 6,300 WIs.
More that just Jam and Jerusalem the church works closely with the Avebury and district WI. You can find out more about their aims and campaigns on their national website. It is advisable to contact the local federation to confirm the meeting details if you would like to visit.
The Social Centre in Avebury was built in the Victorian era and was formerly the Village School.In the early 1990s an extension was built to include a new kitchen and toilets. The main hall is approximately 180 sq m and has a curtained off stage area with portable staging.
To book this lovely old school house for parties, gatherings, events and music please visit the Wiltshire Village Halls Association Website.