This article came from Chronicle published March 1981. Page: 8


The Ascent of a 13c Priest

Authors: Brian and Moira Gittos


Since 1817 the medieval effigy of a priest has been preserved in the south porch of Holy Trinity Church, Shaftesbury. The church is Victorian (by Gilbert Scott, 1842) and has recently been declared redundant. It was acquired for a community centre and arrangements were made to transport a number of wall monuments to the second floor of the tower, with the object of establishing a small museum. Fortunately it was decided that the mid 13th century priest should be preserved in the same way. However, this way to prove no easy task, as the effigy had been cemented into the porch floor and probably weighs in excess of five hundredweight.

In November 1980, the cement around the figure was loosened by a local archaeologist and the effigy was man-handled into an upright position just outside the porch by a willing band of stout-hearted helpers. After posing for photographs, the priest was wheeled by porter’s barrow to the west door and into the base of the tower. The final stage was the most difficult. Parts of the Pubeck marble figure were in a fiable condition due to exposure to damp, and because of this it was necessary to swathe it in sacking before roping it to the barrow. Thence, with the aid of a block and tackle, the swaying corpse-like figure inched its way through the trapdoor and up the tower, There was a tense moment as the effigy went into an impromptu spin, but it finally reacted its destination after a safe, if not entirely dignified, journey.

The figure is incomplete, the face, hands, and feet are missing, but it is otherwise in good condition with much original surface remaining. It will need care in the future to prevent further deterioration and Mr.J. Larson of the Victoria and Albert Museum has been consulted about its preservation.

It is probable that the effigy originally came from Shaftesbury Abbey and, according to the Rev.J.J.Reynolds, it was for some time ‘built into a wayside wall on Toothill’ (The Wiltshire Arch.& Nat.Hist.Mag.Vol. VII 1862 p.261). A tablet in the porch records that it was placed in Holy Trinity Church in 1817. It is illustrated in its former position in R.C.H.M. Dorset Vol.IV North plate 15, and there is a drawing by Dru Drury in the Proceedings of the Dorset Nat.Hist.& Arch.Soc.,Vol.LIII 1931, plate 6.