St Mary's Church
Felmersham, Bedfordshire
Corbels, Arch Ends and Angels



Warding off evil spirits may have been the purpose of the carved stone figure (13) on the springer of the nave arch opposite the pulpit. He eternally pokes his tongue out at the woman opposite (14), in the certain knowledge that she is powerless to respond, however this may be a cover for his true identity – a Green Man.

A green man is a pagan symbol consisting of a man’s head with foliage flowing from his mouth and ears, and normally embracing his hair. Typically he is seen poking out his tongue.
The foliage has been subsequently chipped away, perhaps in an attempt to disguise his pagan purpose. Both figures appear to be in a later architectural style than the 1220 date of the the building.

1 2 3
4 5 6

Corbel A projecting block that supports a parapet or beam. A cantilever. Figures 1 to 12. When the nave roof was raised and flattened in the 15C, the twelve carved stone corbels (stone brackets) supporting the original roof were left intact.

The early Christian church represented the four evangelists as winged creatures and these can be found on the four corner corbels - Matthew is represented by an angel (fig.1), Mark by a lion (fig.6), Luke by an ox (fig.12) and John by an eagle (fig.7). They are similar to the creatures described in the Book of Revelations as surrounding the Throne of God and became known as the “apocalyptic beasts”.  Each figure holds a scroll which may have carried the name of the saint.

The other corbels are carved 13C heads, probably of local people and benefactors, and interestingly they illustrate the headwear fashion of the time. There are two exceptions; the corbel nearest the south chancel door is an upside-down male figure (fig.10) with his head between his legs, poking out his tongue. Much can be read into this figure but the original purpose was to ward off evil spirits entering the church through the north chancel door. The north door is on the left side of the church, the Latin for left is sinistr- (sinister). The other exception is the corbel nearest the north chancel door. Possibly the figure of a winged angel, with shield, keeping out the evil spirits.

12 11 10
9 8 7

Arch ends over north nave door

Ground plan of church showing the position of corbels etc.
  22 21 20 19  
  18 17 16 15  
External arch ends on the south facing clerestory windows.
Arch Ends -  Number 19 is a replacement and is the carved figure of the head of Victor Farrer the church architect during the restoration of the clerestory windows. Fifteen is of interest, its function could be to frighten off evil spirits or, in medieval iconography, it could have a phallic meaning. Seventeen and twenty-one are grotesque figures.
23 24 25 26
External arch ends on the north facing clerestory windows
There are twelve wooden angels in the nave roof (six on each side).   They are all similar except each angel holds the shield differently.

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