The Wheel of Life
My recent visit to St. Peters Church in the manor of Dyrham Park was a tour of the famous Dyrham Park Great House, where "Remains on the Day'' was filmed, and also last year's BBC Dr. Who's "The Dolls" Christmas Special.
Dyrham Park is famous for the little known 6th century battle of Deorham. This Saxon word is usually taken to refer to Dyrham in South Gloucester.
The battle of Deorham was fought in 577AD (Anglo Saxon Chronicle) at Hinton Hill, near Dyrham Park. The West Saxons under the leadership of King Caewlin and his young son Cuthwine opposed the Britons of the West Country. The Briton Kings, Commagil, Condidan and Farinmagil had command of the cities of Glevum (Gloucester), Corinium (Cirencester) and Aqua Sulis (Bath). They were all killed in the battle and the loss to the Britons of the three cities was such a heavy blow that it has been considered by some to have begun the differentiation of Welsh and Cornish into two separate languages. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle stops there, but archaeological research suggests that although the Saxons quickly took over the Cirencester Region, it took many years for to colonise Bath and Gloucester as well.
The oldest part of St. Peters - the three arches between the north aisle and the nave - dates to circa 1280. The tower was built in 1420. The English Oak pulpit has a Jacobean sounding board above, and the font comes from the Norman period.
Of particular interest to me were the 13th century encaustic tiles on the floor of the South aisle with their distinctive red colour and symbols. They were a remarkable find as their contemporaries are to be found in more substantial and opulent establishments, such as Flayles Abbey, Winchester Cathedral and Rochester Cathedral.
What did the pattern of the tiles symbolise? Could there be an echo of the 6th century battle in their design? The pattern of the tiles depicted two large circles attached to three smaller
circles with which were clover leaves. From the writings of the Boethius, in particular, his missive the Consolation of philosophy (Latin: Consolatio Philosophiao) in around 524 AD, which has been described as the single most important and influential work in the west on Medieval and circles were described as Wheels of Fortune. They depict the goddess Fortuna turning a wheel where Man is pinned to the rim and powerless to stop it. With the passage of time, Fortuna disappeared and the circles became known as The Wheel of life. This symbolism was known by those early Saxons and perhaps their belief that the Wheel of Life governed their existence in the past, present and future endures in the iconography of the tiles.
My thanks go to Weston U3A for organising my visit and the St.Peters Website.