… with a macabre link to the Saxon St Arild.
Snuggled atop a rising hill amidst the relative flatness of the Southwolds, sits the ancient (and now redundant) church of St Arild. It is one of only two churches dedicated to the Saxon St Arild, the other being St Arilda’s at Oldbury-on-Severn near Thornbury, just west across South Gloucestershire. It was near this place a young Saxon girl, the virginal Arilda was – wait for it – decapitated by a young man named Muncius because she refused to lay with him. According to the 16th century historian John Leland, anyway.
Shortly after, her remains were noted for the usual miraculous cures of ills and despite originally being laid to rest in what is now Gloucester Cathedral, sadly these have long since disappeared.
However, this article is concerned with St Arild’s at Oldbury-on-the-Hill, Gloucestershire and is now looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust (www.visitchurches.org.uk). Thanks to them, this little gem is open to the public and contains interesting snippets of its’ past, such as the 15th – 16th century North Door with the date ‘1631’ scrawled into the Cotswold stone arch. There are remnants of a Tudor South Door, blocked up possibly due to village decline but still with its’ sundial. There are some fading wall paintings, a few fragments of medieval nave windows and Georgian box pews – all add to a strange atmosphere of desolation yet signs of its once busy congregation.
Outside, one can see the old graves with family names showing the village of Oldbury-on-the-Hill was once more significant than the few scattered farmhouses that remain. The grass track that leads up to the church from the unclassified road is the way the villagers would have once trod but is now part of the Cotswold Way, very popular with the modern rambler.
Visiting this church is very easy. Just as you enter the village of Didmarton on the way to Cirencester, there is a small track to the left. If you don’t know about it, it just looks like a muddy track into a small copse. This track is actually an unclassified that runs along the bottom of the church and parking is minimal – one may be better off parking in the community centre car park which is on your right as you enter Didmarton. With Tetbury a few miles up the road and the Roman town of Cirencester a bit further on, rambling along the Cotswold Way with a stop-off at St Arild’s, would make a perfect relaxing couple of days away with a view of some of the most magnificent countryside around.
Anymore accurate information regarding St Arild would be gratefully received!