St Mary’s Church

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Chipping Norton is an attractive market town built round the busy market place. It has a wide range of shops and is a popular local service centre for the area. In the Middle Ages it was a flourishing wool town and the church reflects this wealth.

The church is on the western edge of the town below the earthworks of a Norman motte and bailey castle. A look at the map suggested that finding our way through a maze of narrow streets would defeat my navigational skills, so we parked in the market place and walked.

It is a splendid church with square battlemented tower at the west end and very tall nave with huge clerestory windows. The chancel is older and is a long low rather plain building. The two storey south porch is hexagonal, one of only three in England. Inside there is a lovely vaulted ceiling with carved bosses – look out for the green man, and stone benches along the walls. The porch was often used as a meeting place to discuss community affairs.

Inside it is a big church. Elegant fluted pillars with their pointed arches, extend up to the roof beams, accentuating the effect of height. Clerestory windows are plain glass and flood the church with light. There is also an extra ‘Cotswold’ window above the chancel arch. The empty niches on either side would have contained statues of the Virgin and St John. Side aisles are lower and there are two north aisles separated by an arcade of octagonal pillars.

On the north chancel arch is an unusual floor mounted stone pulpit. Behind it are three empty niches with carved canopies. The stairs to the long gone rood loft led up through the pillar.

Look for the small carved heads between the arches as well as all the brasses on the walls. At the east end of the north aisle nearest the nave is the splendid Croft table tomb dating from 1500. He is in full armour with his feet resting on a lion and his head on a helmet. She has flowing robes and a pillow under her head. There are crocketed pinnacles round the base. There are two angels holding a shield and praying figures.

The north aisle beyond has a simple altar and is used for midweek services. Above is a rather nice window dating from 1945. At the top is Christ in Majesty with angels. Below is Christ risen from the dead with the women.

At the back of the north aisles is the huge Dawkins family memorial. The first name is 1796 and the last was added in 1914. There are still unfilled spaces. On the walls are smaller memorials to other members of the family.

The chancel has huge choir stalls with poppy heads. The simple altar is set under the stained glass east window with Christ crucified in the centre.

This is an attractive church and well worth finding.

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