The Fifield ship

A few years ago, while John Palmer was painting the mesh grille outside St. John the Baptist’s church, he saw what appeared to be the very faint outline of a ship carved into the west wall of the porch.  This was confirmed by others at the time, what looked like oars and a sail being identified.  At present, this part of the wall is covered by a notice board.  Further investigations will need a very strong light to be shone on the wall at an acute angle.

It is known that there are many signs and symbols painted or scratched onto the surface of medieval churches.  They take a multitude of forms – crosses, stonemasons’ marks, occasional small paintings – and ships.

As far as ships are concerned, these are frequently found in churches near East Anglian ports and probably relate to medieval trade routes to northern Europe for the wood and wool trade.  It is possible that the Fifield ship relates to the export of wool from the Cotswolds.  Another explanation is that it was made by pilgrims either on the way to or from the Holy Land, seeking protection on the journey or giving thanks for a safe return.

John Yaxley

April-May 2021