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  • Writer's picturemysteriesofmercia

A Saint’s Journey in Stone

So here is the rather odd font inside the Church of the Holy Cross that tells the tale of St Bertram. To say it's crudely carved would be a generous description, while Nikolaus Pevsner called it "barbarous"! I think it's fair to say that the the stonemason who got the job here decided not to get a sculptor in and attempted the work himself, totally out of his depth.

Crude, simple carvings like this are often described as being pagan in some way but there is no doubt here that Ilam's patron saint is the subject. We see Bertram holding hands with his new Irish wife but then disaster strikes as a huge wolf - it's not a dragon - devours her and their newborn child as they journey back to Mercia. Bertram is shown in the depths of despair before Christ appears to him as Agnus Dei or the Lamb of God, with the comfort he brings convincing Bertram to give up on the material world and become a hermit.

The font is thought by some to be Anglo-Saxon in origin but is more likely to be early Norman. The church was named for the Mercian cross that still stands as a plain pillar but became a centre for pilgrimage when Bertram - or Beorthelm as he would have been known in life - was interred there.

Nobody would ever call this font beautiful but it's still a vital part of the history, heritage and folklore of the Midands of England.

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