The Church of the Holy Cross, Avening

Historical Information

history-1Ancient tombs with port-hole windows, unearthed in 1809 in a field called the Nom and removed to the Glebe field near the Old Quarries entrance, show that Avening was inhabited for 3000 years before Christ. Coins and broken pottery found from time to time in fields and gardens nearby testify to the Roman occupation of this Parish.

The old stone coffin outside the porch is evidence of an extensive burial ground before the Conquest. There was an earlier Saxon church, the evidence for which can be seen in the fragmentary carved stones inserted in the west wall of the north aisle, which bears Saxon designs. These fragments were recovered during restoration works at the end of the 19th century and are the only surviving remains of the Saxon church.

In Norman times Avening was a favourite resort of royalty, for the manor came into the hands of William I and the story leading up to the building of the Church is closely linked with a royal romance.

history-2The Domesday book tells of a hawk-mews at Avening Court, which belonged, before the Conquest, to Brittric. This young man, Lord of Gloucester who held many lands between Tewkesbury and Winchester, was sent by Edward the Confessor on an embassy to Baldwin, Count of Flanders, where he met the count’s daughter, Matilda. Matilda fell in love with him, but to her great disappointment he rejected her approaches and it was William, Duke of Normandy, later to become William the Conqueror, who eventually won her hand and who crowned her Queen of England.

Shortly after their accession she revengefully caused the King to dispossess Brittric of his estates including the manor of Avening and throw him into prison in Worcester, where he died. It is said that in her remorse for the persecution of Brittric she entirely rebuilt Avening Church, that Masses might be said for his soul. While in residence at Avening Court the king and queen superintended the building operations. At the consecration on Holy Cross Day, September 14th 1080 (some say it was as early as 1070), the queen gave a feast to the builders, of boar’s head, shot in the forest, and the Avening Feast is still celebrated on “Pig Face Day.”

history-4A charter records that in 1082 “William and Matilda endowed the Abbey of Holy Trinity, Caen, with the manors of Avening, Nailsworth and other lands, for the good of their souls.” They had already built and endowed two religious communities at Caen, and of the one, the “Abbey aux Dames,” Matilda’ s daughter was the first nun and second abbess.

Caen retained the Avening endowments for 333 years, during which time the Church was served by French priests sent here from Caen. The Church is dedicated to the Holy Rood, or Cross, St. Mary the Virgin being the patron saint.
The Registers date from 1557. A list of Rectors dating from 1291 is in the Church. Many of them were famous; one afterwards became Bishop of St. David’s, and another was Bishop of Gloucester.

The parishes of Avening and Cherington were united in one benefice in 1975.