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Pentagram carving, Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Adderbury

Pentagram carving, Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Adderbury

Photo: William Ross

A Pentagram at Adderbury Church

26 July 2021 (Updated 7 September 2021)

On the wall not far above the main door at Adderbury Church can be found a stone carving that many would associate more with the occult, paganism and witchcraft than Christianity.

The history of the pentagram

The five-pointed star in a circle motif is known as a pentagram and has been appropriated by adherents of paganism and the Wiccan religion as a symbol of faith. Before this time the symbol was often used by occultists and practitioners of ritual magic such as Éliphas Lévi, Aleister Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The pentagram carving at Adderbury could be seen as doubly peculiar as it is specifically a downward-pointing pentagram, an inversion of the usual upwards-pointing pentagram that could be interpreted as akin to the satanic symbolism associated with an inverted crucifix.

So what is a symbol with such unchristian associations doing on a Christian church?

A pentagram on a church?

There are a number of possible explanations for how a pentagram might appear on a Christian church. Firstly, we should consider the age of the church. Some parts of it date back to the 13th century, and while the carvings in question are likely much younger, they still probably date from a period when this particular symbol did not have the pagan/occult associations that modern popular culture has given it today.

In ancient times the five-pointed star was associated with the five senses, with the top-most point pointing towards heaven and representing the spirit ruling over the other four senses.

In Christianity, the five-pointed star has also been a symbol for the five holy wounds that Christ suffered on the cross. These five holy wounds have been used symbolically in art, sacred music and heraldry since the middle ages, albeit not always characterised as a star.

The final and more entertaining explanation for this carving could be that it is merely the work of a mischievous and subversive stonemason. Stonemasonry was a highly regarded profession in the past, and a master stonemason would be given considerable creative license when decorating the exterior of a church with carvings.

Some other unusual church carvings

It is not unusual to find some quite fantastical carvings decorating the exterior of English churches, and in some cases, one can only assume that it would have taken some considerable audacity to justify some of the more risque pieces to church authorities. For example the mooning man motif that can be seen at a number of churches, as can the decidedly pagan Sheela na gig and Green man motifs.

Adderbury church is particularly rich in unusual exterior carvings. The pentagram is accompanied by numerous grinning demons, griffins, a mermaid with two tails (surprisingly similar to the Starbucks coffee logo!), a serpent with two heads, another serpent with one head but two bodies, and an entire band including a piper, drummer and hurdy-gurdy player. More photos of these can be found at greatenglighchurches.co.uk.

The devil at Adderbury?

It is possible that, in adding this carved pentagram to the church, the stonemason could be making reference to another legend associated with not only this church, but also the churches at Bloxham and King's Sutton. The legend is that a mysterious stonemason constructed all the three church towers in a single night before disappearing in a puff of brimstone. The identity of this stonemason? The devil!