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John Billingsley & Diane Charlton


Adel Church is one of England's gems of Romanesque architecture. A mid-12th-century Norman village church (on an earlier site), it is profusely decorated with exciting and powerful sculpture. Images include archaic heads, beaked animal heads, chevrons and a varied menagerie of real and meaningful beasts. Anglo-Saxon and Viking influences are discernible in the designs.

Beaked head There are several items of special interest. A bronze closing ring (NB not a sanctuary knocker) on the S door, representing a lion's head with a bearded human head in its jaws, similar to that at All Saints, Pavement, York, and dates from the 12th or 13th century. Around this door stands the fine Porch, with its five rings, including a series of beaked heads - a special feature of Anglo-Norman Romanesque iconography dating from around 1130 CE onwards in England. Above is a frieze which according to the church guide "presents to our eyes in sculpture what the door opened in heaven enabled St John to describe" (in Revelation 4) - Christ enthroned with the four evangelists' beasts around him. On the W gable is a triangular array of 9 heads and all around the eaves of the exterior are 81 grotesques carved on the corbel table.


Internally, the three-tiered Chancel Arch is the star of the church. Its outermost ring comprises 37 different grotesque heads, including 'reflection', beaked and multiple heads, and it stands on pillars whose capitals are ornamented by motifs including a centaur and dragon alongside more customary Christian scenes like the Crucifixion.

Stones Other items of importance associated with Adel Church are the old font, now in Leeds General Infirmary, and the Adel Stones, now rather unsatisfactorily displayed in Leeds City Museum. The latter are a group of unusually decorated stones discovered in the foundations during restorations in 1864. They are thought to have come from the earlier church, and dates from between the 8th century to the Norman period have been suggested; there has even been some question as to whether they are Christian or pagan. They probably once stood upright, are carved on both faces and may well have been grave markers; their religious ambiguity may reflect the conditions of Christianity at the time of their origin.

Notes on Adel Church compiled by John Billingsley & Diane Charlton; illustrations by Diane Charlton, except where marked.



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