Last time I went to England, I took a day-tour to Stonehenge. Most of the tours went to Stonehenge and Bath, but the tour I chose made an additional stop at Salisbury to see the cathedral. Along the way, we were supposed to stop for a traditional pub lunch. Near the pub was an old Norman church. Most of my fellow tourists explored old Saint Mary’s. I went into the churchyard.
The first mention of the church — in 1179 — records that it belonged to the small nunnery of Amesbury. It stands west of the river Till, which served as the boundary between the parishes of Shrewton and Maddington. Both villages had a church dedicated to Saint Mary. Shrewton’s St. Mary is first mentioned in 1236, when its tithes were paid to Ela, Countess of Salisbury. The church stands east of the river.
Shrewton means the sheriff’s farm. It’s named for Edward of Salisbury, who served as Sheriff of Wiltshire in the 12th and 13th centuries. Maddington, the maidens’ farm, belonged to the nuns of Amesbury Abbey, who held land there from the Saxon era until the Priory’s dissolution in 1539. In 1761, a new turnpike road caused the two villages to grow together. In fact, the current village is comprised of seven medieval hamlets.
Maddington’s St. Mary’s Church was declared redundant in 1975. The congregation of that church joined Shrewton’s Church of St. Mary. Maddington’s church, although it’s been rebuilt and restored many times over the century, retains some of its original Norman details. It’s open daily, but the key must be obtained from the keyholder who lives nearby.
The day I visited, the graveyard was wonderfully peaceful. Many of the old stones were unreadable, their faces lacy with lichen in yellow and gray. The sky was a vivid shade of robin’s-egg blue that my photographs don’t do justice. I felt blessed to have discovered this place by a stroke of luck.
I wandered among the old graves and wondered how it felt to live in a village that had existed almost a thousand years, among people who had spoken Germanic Anglo-Saxon, then Norman French, then English which continues to evolve to this day. I looked out over the green hills and thought of the river we’d crossed and wondered how much the view had changed. As the villagers might once have said, “La plus ça change…”
The other members of the tour group filed out of the church and headed back to the pub’s parking lot to board the bus. I bade the beautiful old churchyard farewell and followed them.