• Amanda C Vesty

Dragons, Bears, and World Tree.

A brief tour around St Bartholomew's Church Blore-Ray in the Staffordshire Peak District in search of the magical and mysterious.


This place was quite a find with beautiful countryside, interesting items for a history and myth nerd like me as well as wonderful trees. I have written a Tree Tour for nearby #Illam Park and one for The Church of the Holy Cross where the star of the show is an old yew. In fact Ive written a poem and made a film about it, it is on the Ancient and Sacred Trees YouTube channel.


Just a short distance from Ilam park, Saint Bartholomew's Church at Blore-Ray is worth stopping off for.

#StBartholomew, #BloreRay (Staffordshire) I love rootling around old churches and this one was built about 1100 on the site of an earlier building. Interestingly it sits high on a hill-side above the confluence of the #Dove and #Manifold rivers so it was probably sited on a #preChristian site. You can see features from various #architectural periods including some Norman work surviving in the nave. The tower and chancel are 14th Century. The arch leading into the tower is Early English and some of the windows date from the Geometric and Decorated periods. Tudor work is represented by the font, nave pews, chancel choir stalls and screen. There are Jacobean box pews, which I haven't seen very often and an altar, communion rails, pulpit and reading desk.



I was really pleased to see these medieval tiles preserved in a case. They were found in the rubble of the Bassett memorial(see below)

Below some more tiles this time with a sun wheel design known to have an #apotropaic affect deflecting misfortune and the evil eye. Apologies it's a bit blurred it was difficult to photograph inside its' case.

In a side chapel lies the Bassett tomb. It was sculptured in alabaster by Jasper Hollemans and erected between 1618 and 1640. It contains the remains of members of the Bassett family of Blore Hall whose descendants include Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Richard of Gloucester. There is a typed up book in the church where you can find out more.


I was more interested in this #medieval tile below featuring a rather sweet looking #dragon with what looks like a squirrel scampering overhead although I suppose it could also be a monkey with a very big tale.



I was intrigued by the top of the Bassett memorial seen below. I was hoping the animal head was a bear but it turned out on closer inspection to be a boar. The significance of heads both animal and human may well stem from the ancient bear cult when the bears head was venerated.

Also of interest are fragments of mediaeval painted glass dating from c.1510 depicting St. Anne teaching the Blessed Virgin to read and also various shields depicting the arms of local families. Yes I know the two below are griffins but I like to associate them with dragons.



I love the delicate tracery of tendrils of nature on the window above and the winged beast is very fine too with some lovely detailing.

The effects of the Reformation can be seen in the dismantled 14th Century stoup in the porch, a divided stone altar and the sawn off stumps of a rood screen. I couldn't help but wonder how pretty it must have looked originally. There is also a partially concealed squint and a decapitated 15th Century brass memorial.


Outside there are some #gargoyles to be seen including this possible dragon.

I also found this rather curious one below. It looks like a bear with the shape of its head and also looking at the leg with its large feet/paws. It appears to be holding a club in one hand and its' penis in the other. Bears are often depicted hold a branch. This is also a feature of the #WildMen that came later, a symbol that is derived from earlier #bearsymbolism. Bears were seen as highly sexual and for this reason a danger to women. This later interpretation derives from earlier #mythology found throughout the world with bears being the #ancestors of humans.


I cannot explain the hole in its middle definitively but have the following theory. #Bear was seen as the collector of dead souls carrying them to the afterlife and also of birthing new ones. The penis is pointing directly at the hole so this could be some kind of allusion to this archaic belief. A ring was used by Siberian tribes as a way for those who hadn't hunted the bear to view it. Of course this tower was built in the fourteenth century so by this time this sculpture would have been erected to mock these earlier beliefs so perhaps the bear with its' hole in the middle both depicted the story yet mocked it by allowing the rain to pour through it on to the heads of those underneath thus 'taking-the-piss'.


Finally here is a photo of one of the beautiful #ashtrees that grow down the side of the church. It seems appropriate that this tree featured in both Celtic and Norse #mythology should grow here. They had similar beliefs that the ash was the tree said to span the universe, linking worlds. It also ties in rather nicely with the bear above.

You can check out my tree tours just down the road from Blore-Ray of the Ilam yew and also Ilam park on the blog at #Ancientandsacredtrees.


Next time I will talk about Ilam and some of it's history from pagan to Christian. In the meantime you can check out the tree tours above.


Amanda Claire x


I'm available for #TreeTours and #Forestbathing and I will happily add some history and mythology too. You can contact me via this site.