FRAGMENTS thought to be of a pre-Norman church connected with St Edward the Confessor’s Chancellor, Regenbald, and with links to the royal House of Wessex, are being verified after they were discovered under a medieval parish church in Somerset.
The remains beneath the Grade II* St John the Baptist, Frome, in Bath & Wells diocese, are thought to be those of a Saxon structure founded by St Aldhelm in 685, and described by the historian William of Malmesbury, in the early 12th century, as a stone church larger than the Saxon royal chapel at Bradford on Avon. He wrote: “Stat ibi adhuc et vicit diuturnitate sua tot secula”: “It stands there, still surviving the centuries.”
In May, archaeologists surveying St John’s for the installation of a new floor in the nave found the footings of a corner and lengths of stone wall which suggested a building about ten metres long and four metres wide, with a slightly lower floor level than the later medieval church.
Until now, the exact location of the Saxon church was unclear. One 19th-century writer placed it in a village near by, and stones in the grounds turned out to have Victorian foundations.
The Vicar, the Revd Colin Alsbury, said: “We are confident this is something that William of Malmesbury saw. In 1120, he described it as having survived the centuries, which would have made it old even then. We have a couple of charcoal fragments which are awaiting radio-carbon dating, which we hope will give us a date.
“This was an important site. The church lands were held by Regenbald, who became Dean of Cirencester Abbey. Frome was given to the abbey, which is why, historically, I am only a Vicar; the Abbot of Cirencester was the Rector. The 1180s church was built around it by the abbot, and we think they took stone from it and recycled it to build the new church. So the corner we have found was stone they did not need.
“There are connections with the royal House of Wessex. Edington is only ten miles away, and King Edred has links to Frome.” (King Alfred defeated a Viking army in the Battle of Edington in 878.)