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Monday 1 September 2014

A strange Norman stone carving in St Nicholas' church, Combe St Nicholas, Somerset

combe st nicholas church

While visiting this church for a wedding, I noticed the strange carved stone capital on a pillar near the north entrance. Apparently, it is the only remnant of the Norman church that once stood on the site (although a round font dating to Saxon times is thought to be the oldest object in the church, surviving from the Saxon church building that was here before that).

green man combe st nicholas

It is an odd carved design and some people think that it represents the devil. I wonder why the medieval builders who rebuilt the church in the 13th century decided to keep this bit of stonework in particular? The pillar that it tops does not seem to hold up any arches, so it probably isn't structural. 

The way that the weird-looking head seems to sprout the paired 'snail track' lines out of its mouth reminds me a lot of 'green man' carvings, some of which have foliage coming from their mouths in a similar fashion. I wonder if this could be an example of such a design? According to 'The Company of the Green Man' website, this carving would seem to have been identified as such by Clive Hicks in his book 'The Green Man: A Field Guide'. 

The carving on the capital to its left looks to me like it could represent a crown.

If you are visiting the church, the oak screen in front of the altar is also worth a look. A plaque tells how it was first carved around 1480, then was taken down and moved in the 19th century before being repaired and returned to it's original position in 1921, when a memorial to the men of the parish who died in the First World War was also added to it.

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