Tyndale and Adeline

Tucked away at the bottom of the steep valley side of the Vale of Berkeley stands the small village of Little Sodbury, and in the village stands the Victorian church of St Adeline. It is a remarkable church for its associations rather than its architecture. In 1859 the original church, which stood behind the manor of Little Sodbury, was demolished and the new Victorian church was proudly built at the bottom of the slope. The original, a tiny church of which just two small portions of ivy covered walls remain, stands behind the manor of Little Sodbury half way up the hill. Although the manor is now privately owned and the original church can only be seen by permission, it is the manor which is the key to the interest of the church, for it was there that William Tyndale taught the children of Sir John Walsh.

What the original church was like in architecture and interior decoration can only be guessed at, but no doubt it had many of the elements that Tyndale was later to argue against. The east end probably had an elaborate altar, and the church may have had wall paintings, relics, statues and a rood screen. The rood screen was often a large wooden structure with a cross on top (‘rood’ is the Old English word for a cross). The screen separated the chancel — where the priest celebrated the Mass — from the congregation who watched.

Reputedly only one part of the church remains intact: the pulpit. It is of a simple design, being octagonal in shape, but if it did come from the original church it may well have been the pulpit from which Tyndale preached.

The history of the original church is obscure, but it had one unique feature in England: it was, and is, the only church to be dedicated to St Adeline. St Adeline is an obscure saint and does not appear in any of the standard works. Only when a full list of saints' dedications in England is studied is it revealed that she she was a ‘Virgin’ and that her feast day is Oct 20th. Who she was is open to debate. Various options are given by Basil Cottle in his ‘Presidential Address’ in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (106, 1988). The only firm evidence is her name, but complications arise as her present name might well be a corruption of:

It is possible that her name was originally the male saint's name St Athelwine, but has become so corrupted that even the name has changed sex.

The most interesting option is that the name derives from the Abbess of Normandy for this would show a strong Gloucestershire/Normandy connection, possibly through the trading port of Bristol.

It is unfortunate that that is as far as we can get with the name; a name that Tyndale would have known so well, and in the church he would have undoubtedly preached in. It is quite possible that more information lurks deep in the archives of various record offices and the dedication may have had a significance or origin with the original owners of the manor house, as the church was undoubtedly built as a lord's private church, and only later developed into a parish church.

© Chris Daniell

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