All Saints Church in Norman times
Continuing the account by the vicar of East Meon, Reverend Terry Louden
After the Norman Conquest – Hastings, 1066 and all that – the conquering Normans had a deliberate policy of putting up large buildings. Where these were churches, the Normans would have said that they were built to the glory of God. In fact, they had a much more practical purpose – to remind the natives, as it were, of who was in charge.
Buildings were a living sign of Norman power and authority. This explains the grand and imposing size of this church. The Bishop of Winchester was Lord of the Manor. Indeed, by 1300, one-third of Hampshire was owned by the church.
If East Meon was one of the bishop’s regular stops on his travels round his diocese, the parish church would have been planned on a scale which would demonstrate his authority. We think that Bishop Wakelin, the man responsible for rebuilding Winchester Cathedral – the project started in 1079 – was the prime mover here also, though he did not live to see his vision completed.
The original church was cruciform in shape, consisting of nave, chancel, and transepts, and the original work is clearly identifiable in the round-topped arches typical of Norman or Romanesque style , and in the West and South doorways. …..
The Tournai Font
The greatest treasure of the church is, of course, the font. It is one of only seven such fonts in this country, made from black Tournai marble in what is present-day Belgium. It came here around 1150, just as the original church was being completed. It was probably a gift from the then Bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois, grandson of the Conqueror, brother of King Stephen and Chancellor of England, who was known for his generosity with regard to his churches. As we are aware, there is a Tournai font, from the same period, in Winchester Cathedral. The carvings on the four sides are illustrations from the opening chapters of Genesis, executed in a Romanesque style. It always amazes me to imagine how it got here – presumably on barge down the river Scheldt, across the North Sea, down the Channel and up the River Itchen, perhaps to Itchen Abbas, from where it would have been hauled overland. Not quite a task of Stonehenge proportions, but remarkable nevertheless. And I always remind baptism families of the long roll of names of children and adults baptised here over 850 years. The font has not always been its present position. In 1150, when it arrived, where it now stands was outside the church. For many years it seems to have been located between the pillars of the arcade separating the nave from the south aisle.
The only major addition to the church subsequently was made in about 1230, when the South Aisle and Lady Chapel were added, in the new Early English style, with its pointed arches and larger windows. The spire was probably added at this time too, though it may have been earlier.
Thereafter changes have been largely confined to detail, rather than to structure, though the chancel did see some remodelling in the later medieval period.