Breamore, Hampshire (†Winchester) 979-1016
Painted Anglo-Saxon Inscription
The Saxon church at Breamore in Hampshire was built in around 980CE and the arch shown here is over the entrance to the south transept (strictly speaking a ‘porticus’ rather than a fully developed transept). It bears an Anglo-Saxon inscription, incised in the stone and painted in red ochre, which reads “HER SWUTELATH SEO GECWYDRAEDNES THE”. This translates as “Here the covenant [the word] is manifested to thee”. There is another stone preserved in the wall bearing the letters “DES” suggesting that there was possibly more of the sentence elsewhere, over corresponding arches now destroyed. It seems to be a quotation from, or close reference to Titus 1:3, a Pauline Epistle concentrating on the Divine Order ordained by God for the churches and the importance of identifying true preachers and sound doctrine.
According to the leaflet in the church, the form of the letters here places the inscription sometime in the latter part of the reign of Ethelred II (the ‘redeless’ or Unready) who became king on the death of his brother Edward the Martyr in 978 and reigned until 1016.
The red ochre paint will almost certainly have been renewed at some point since then, at least in part (although the more faded areas may be exactly as the painter left them), but there is no doubt about the authenticity of the inscription. This, along with the Saxon Rood and its painted background, and the painting of the Suicide of Judas (a rare subject whatever its age) at Breamore, is a very remarkable survival. There is also some very obscure painting on the wall behind the high altar, but that is probably 13th or 14th century.
Click here for the Saxon Rood and the Suicide of Judas, both also at Breamore.
Website for St Mary’s, Breamore