Of the four Gloucestershire churches that have come together to initiate Dedication 1315, Fretherne church offers the least by way of original medieval features. For that reason it has been given the honour of providing the decorative border for this main narrative painting of the event. It is a wonderful building rich in ornament which was, in its own time, an early nineteenth century homage to the imagination of the medieval architect and stone mason and stands today as one of the county’s finest examples of the Gothic Revival genre. The earlier church on this site had been dedicated by Bishop Maidstone on 9th July 1315.
The main body of the painting is divided into three sections, each representing an episode in Bishop Maidstone’s 1315 visit to our group of churches.
Lower left shows the bishop riding into Whaddon where, on 4th July, he dedicated the church and consecrated the main altar. Lower right shows him at Frampton on 10th July where, this time pictured inside the church, he both dedicated the church and consecrated the main altar.
The upper half of the painting shows the Bishop with his entourage at Harescombe on 5th July. There is no record of an altar being consecrated here but the church was dedicated, and from contemporary sources found in beautifully illuminated books called pontificals, we know the details of the liturgy that the bishop would have followed. He is pictured here at the very beginning of the ceremony, striking the church door with his crozier, whilst from inside the deacon asks, ‘Who is the King of Glory?’ to which Bishop Maidstone answers, ‘The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.’ (Psalm 24)
Of all the four churches in our group Harescombe remains as like the building that Bishop Maidstone would have recognised as Fretherne is unlike. The whole church as we see it today remains almost entirely unaltered with its nave, chancel and bellcote all dating to the thirteenth century and therefore just before Bishop Maidstone’s time.
Along the base we see the River Severn which flows across the painting just as it flows alongside the seven churches visited in that summer of 1315. The little fishing boat moored up on some narrow stretch of Severn beach is taken from a lovely stained glass window in the chancel of Fretherne church.