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The Font that Commemorates Warriors

This magnificent font resides inside the Church of St Mary Magdalene in the Herefordshire village of Eardisley.

It was expertly carved from a single sandstone block by craftsmen of the "Herefordshire School" of stonemasons, and probably completed around 1150. Anyone who has seen the amazing carvings at Kilpeck church will recognise the Romanesque style, incorporating influences from Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Spanish art.

A story is told as one follows the images around the font, portraying "The Harrowing of Hell", an apocryphal story where Jesus Christ descends into hell to rescue Adam and symbolically save the souls of all humanity. Vines twist and writhe around them, representing the clutches of evil, while two warriors fight a duel among the tendrils. Who they are isn't exactly clear but they may be a warning against the sins of unwarranted violence.

Folklore tells a very different tale though. A local story claims that the duelling men are Sir Ralph Baskerville I and his father-in-law and arch enemy Lord Drogo of Clifford. A row over property shortly after the Norman conquest ended with the two knights facing each other at "the white cross" where Baskerville walked away victorious. Drogo was real enough, dying in 1127, while Ralph was indeed a member of the powerful Baskerville dynasty who held large swathes of land in Herefordshire for centuries. Henry II remarked that "if only a single Baskerville remained alive, he would be enough to poison the whole world with sin".

Whatever the truth of it, this is an incredible historical artefact and still occasionally used as a working baptismal font...another mystery of Mercia.

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