Logo of the Dorset Historic Churches Trust

 

 

 

 

 

The circular logo of the Dorset Historic Churches Trust features a copy of a small carving of a winged figure to be seen over a doorway in the rebuilt and now sadly redundant church of St. Kenelm at Stanbridge, near Hinton Parva, Wimborne,  Dorset.  

This carving has been commonly thought to depict an angel, possibly the boy Saint Kenelm himself. Arguably, it depicts the winged and ascending Christ-Logos¹. The figure holds the Book of the Word, with the Cross in his left hand. This would appear to establish his divine identity.  

 

The sculpted figure of Christ at St Kenelm’s church shows him with a pair of outspread wings, indicating that he came down from heaven and is returning there. Mary Curtis Webb explains that in the Middle Ages it was not uncommon for holy souls and even for Christ to be depicted with wings.  The metaphor goes back as far as the 3rd century; it is found in the 8th century Anglo-Saxon poem Christ (attributed to Cynewulf)²

 

The tree in the St Kenelm’s carving may represent both the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, and the Tree of the Crucifixion. Origen, the Greek third century theologian, wrote: “Through the Tree came death and through the Tree came Life, because death was in Adam and Life was in Christ.”³

 

The great importance of the Hinton Parva carving is that it appears to be unique among 12th-century English carvings in depicting the Ascension of the winged Christ-Logos.  It is therefore vital that its preservation be assured, now that the redundant church is in private ownership.

 

A photograph from the Museum of Cluny shows another rare 11th or 12th century depiction of Christ-Logos holding the Book of the Word:  

¹ Christ-Logos: the concept that Christ is the Word incarnate. Logos taken from the Greek literally means “The Word”.  The opening of the Gospel of John reads: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

 

² Christ II: Ascension. Exeter Book, fos. 14a-20b

 

³ Origen, Contra Celsum books II - VIII, Volume 2

© 2015 by Dr Helen M Smith

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