You’d have to go a long way to beat the door at Kilpeck church, but the western wall has a place all of its own. You might be forgiven for thinking it was a bit of Norse construction and the swirling lines of carving look like zoomorphic creatures, or Celtic knots… but not your typical Norman… or anything you might reasonably expect to find adorning a church in a tiny English village five miles from the Welsh border. Yet, at first glance, you might miss it.
Three huge stone dragons, with protruding and coiled tongues, jut out from the corners of the wall and below the west window. A fourth is broken. Each of them is different, as if showing the sequence of the opening of the mouth… which makes them sound rather Egyptian too, though I wonder how much the inner meaning of such symbolism is universal.
The dragons do not go unchallenged though… a dog, or more probably a lion, bites at its neck. A fleur de lys curls around the attacker, and I wonder what that might mean. Is it a political statement about the overlordship of the Norman invaders or a reference to the Virgin Mary whose symbol is a lily? The strength of arms overcoming the vanquished? The strength of purity subduing the dragon energies? Or an illustration of the fact that love, life and death are rooted in the Mother, the Divine feminine?
The line of corbels continues around the building and the columns of the west window itself are deeply carved with the most intricate of interwoven patterns. Just that alone must have taken months of painstaking labour. The carvings are of the Herefordshire School of stonemasons and may have been inspired by carvings seen on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
The capitals of the columns are Green Men… disgorging heads, from whose mouths curl something of a similar pattern to the knotwork, but which appear to terminate in a serpent’s head. The whole of the exterior of the church is simply fantastic. Which probably meant that the interior would be quite simple. It often is a case of one or the other with the decorations, but not both. We could only wait and see…