England’s Bayeux Tapestry at the centre of new heritage trail of Shropshire’s historic churches

The wall painting at All Saints Church.

                           Jamie Cars

The wall painting at All Saints Church. Jamie Carstairs

Following research on remarkable medieval wall paintings at a village church in Shropshire, described as England’s Bayeux Tapestry, a University of Bristol academic and her team have created a new heritage trail around the local area.

At its centre is All Saints Church in Claverley where painted walls, dating back to the 13 th century, on the north side of the nave depict an epic battle scene.

This was first identified by artist Christopher Barrett, in an article published in 2012, as a scene from the oldest surviving major work of French literature, The Song of Roland (written between around 1100), which recounts the Battle of Roncevaux Pass.

Roland was the legendary nephew of the famous Charlemagne, King of the Franks, who ruled from 768-814 AD.

Recent work by the team based at Bristol have put this a wider European context of the reception of the myths of Charlemagne, highlighting its international importance.

The images at Claverley allude to a version of this battle which circulated widely in Europe; they tell us that the legend was known in this part of England, but also raise more questions about how it circulated as it had not yet been translated into English, having spread through Latin and French versions.

The East Shropshire Church Trail connects Claverley to other medieval churches in the immediate vicinity, placing All Saints in the wider context of regional church heritage. The trail was developed with Shropshire Historic Churches Trust.

Dr Marianne Ailes , Senior Lecturer in French from the School of Modern Languages at the University of Bristol, heads-up an international project , funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which is investigating the legend of Charlemagne in various linguistic cultures of medieval Europe.

The trail is the latest in a series of events and projects which aim to raise awareness of the wall paintings at Claverley and their connections to the legend of Charlemagne.

Dr Ailes said: “Shropshire has an extraordinary large number of medieval churches and a trail like this helps the visitor to understand the specific churches in relation to each other.

“The medieval wall paintings at Claverley, with the frieze of battling knights, are unique and spectacular, with no explicitly religious imagery. The likely allusion to the Song of Roland, and ultimately Charlemagne, add an even more exciting element to this fascinating story.

“We really hope people will enjoy taking part in the trail and finding out more about the fascinating history of this area.”

The Charlemagne Icon project will culminate in a series of books that will cover the history and mythology around Charlemagne in more detail than ever before.

The church trail can be downloaded from www.charlemagne-icon.ac.uk/trail/claverley-church-trail/ and free leaflets are available in the churches featured.

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