One of the most complete surviving Saxon churches in England, maintained by English Heritage, can be found in Deerhurst, Gloucestershire.
This Benedictine Monastery known as ‘Odda’s Chapel’ was built in 1056 by Earl Odda, relative of Edward the Confessor, and is a Grade 1 listed building.
We visited here on a rather dull, February day and the ground was rather muddy near the parking area.
Entry is free. There is a charged car park opposite the chapel, not managed by English Heritage. You can of course park a little way off and walk. Nearby, is St Mary’s Priory Saxon church, equally famous and once part of a medieval priory founded in the 7th century. It is open daily from 10am – 6pm April to October and 10am – 4pm November to March.
I didn’t spend much time inside Odda’s as it was so cold and damp!
Odda’s chapel was incorporated into a farmhouse called Abbot’s Court in the 17th century, with a kitchen in the nave and a bedroom in the chancel. It was rediscovered in 1865 by a Reverend George Butterworth who had two clues to help him. The first was an entry in the medieval chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey describing a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity that stood opposite the gateway to Deerhurst Priory. The second was the famous Odda Stone that had been found in an orchard near the parish church in 1675. The inscription read…
‘Earl Odda had this Royal Hall built and dedicated in honour of the Holy Trinity for the soul of his brother Aelfric, which left the body in this place. Bishop Ealdred dedicated it the second of the Ides of April in the fourteenth year of his reign of Edward, King of the English.’
‘Odda of Deerhurst’ was an Anglo-Saxon nobleman, active from 1013. As a result of confiscation of property and earldoms from Godwin, Earl of Wessex and his sons in 1051, Odda became a leading magnate and King Edward the Confessor gave him the position of Earl over an area of vacated territory.
Aelfric, Odda’s brother died on 22nd December 1053, and Edward the Confessor conveyed the Chapel and the Manor of Deerhurst to the Abbey of Westminster shortly before his death.
Sister, Ealdgyth may have outlived both brothers and she appears in the Domesday Book.
It is thought the chapel went out of use in the 13th century.
Earl Godwin had his lands returned when he was restored to royal favour, and as compensation, Odda received a new Earldom in the West Midlands. In late life he became a monk and is buried at Pershore Abbey.
Odda’s chapel has a square-ended chancel divided from the nave by a solid chancel arch. Saxon features, are the alternating long and short quoins, the windows, north door of the nave and the chancel arch. The nave walls are 17 feet high and built of local blue lias stone.
Originally, there were two doorways facing each other but the one on the south side had been blocked. The south side window is almost perfect and contains some of the original oak framework.
There are traces of the fireplace of the later Tudor kitchen in the west wall. The chancel arch is over 10 feet high, and of a horse shoe shape. The chancel beyond was extensively altered. The south wall was demolished and is now marked by the low wall. It seems the upper story was inserted when the place was converted into part of the adjoining dwelling.
In 1965 a roof restoration took place. Old photos show the roof was mainly of 17th century origin, although there are earlier design features going back to the 11th and 12th century.
Items from a 1981 excavation can be found in the Tewkesbury Museum. From excavations, there was almost certainly a Roman Villa at Deerhurst in a field south of the chapel.
Only 6 miles from Tewkesbury, this place is worth a look at having so much historic importance nearby.