The Wilmington 'Madonna' – Wilmington, England - Atlas Obscura

The Wilmington 'Madonna'

Wilmington, England

This church is home to a 1,600-year-old tree, but also a mysterious carved figure who may have been a pagan idol. 


The Church of St. Mary and St. Peter, built in the 12th century, stands close to the mysterious Long Man of Wilmington hill figure and encapsulates the area’s ancient spiritual heritage.

As you enter the churchyard, you can hardly miss the massive yew tree that dominates much of the peaceful space. This ancient tree, predating the church itself, is at least 1,600 years old, as certified by The Conservation Foundation’s Yew Tree Campaign.

At an impressive 23 feet wide, the tree is kept standing by posts and chains. The yew tree is believed to have been a site of pre-Christian worship, symbolizing everlasting life, indicating that the site has been a place of spiritual significance for many ages.

Inside the church, a curious carved figure sits above one of the chancel’s arched windows. The figure’s identity is uncertain, but it’s believed to be an early Norman depiction of the Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated. The figure is depicted with a child on its knee, which may represent the Christ child.

However, there are suggestions that parts of the figure may have an earlier, possibly pagan, origin, since its head appears to have been completed in an earlier style than the rest of its body, raising questions about its true origin.

Know Before You Go

The best parking for the church is the ‘Long Man and Priory car park’.

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