St Mary’s Church

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St Mary’s church is big and with the trees in the graveyard, it is almost impossible to photograph it all. It has the finest spire in Oxfordshire, but you do need binoculars to appreciate all the detail.

The church was built in 12-13thC with an Early English nave and porch. The tower and spire were added in the 14thC and are decorated Gothic. The Milcombe Chapel, clerestory and priest’s room above the porch were added in the 15thC. There was a major restoration in the 19thC. The chancel interior, pulpit, choir stalls and marble reredos date from this time.

The tower with its tall pinnacles, gloriously carved balustrade and and tall slender spire dominates the building. The nave and side aisles have a carved balustrade.

Entry is through the south porch with a step down into it. Inside there is a vaulted ceiling and lovely carved Norman doorway with chevrons.

The church is huge inside with round pillars and pointed arches on the north arcade. The south arcade is later and has multiple round pillars with round arches and some carved capitals.

At the back of the church is a 15thC octagonal font with wooden jacobean cover.

A modern rood screen separates the Milcombe chapel off the south aisle. This has a stone altar and reredos with space for fourteen carved figures. One is missing and several are without heads. On the west wall is a huge memorial to Sir John Thornycroft who died in 1725. He lies in a classical pose, propped up on one elbow contemplating the afterlife. Above him are clouds with three cherub heads and his coat of arms at the top. Around him are other Thornycroft memorials. On the south wall between the two windows is a very detailed 15th or 16thC wall painting depicting the life of an unknown martyr. It is a series of small detailed images and does rather resemble a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

The north transept contains the War Memorial Chapel. This has fluted columns with lovely carved bases and capitals. One is described as St George in ‘Coife de Mailles’ as worn in the time of Edward I. The memorial window above the altar has images of St Denys, Virgin and Child and St Martin at the top. Below are Sir Galahad, St George and Joan of Arc. The reredos has a list of the dead from the Great War.

The 15thC rood screen was gift from Cardinal Wolsey, replacing one destroyed in the Wars of the Roses. It lost its rood cross during the Reformation. The carved base panels with double trefoliate arches have the remains of the original paintings of popes and evangelists. Above is delicate open tracery with a row of small carved flower motifs along the top. The screen was restored in the 19thC and upper parts have been repainted in shades of green, red and gold.

Above the chancel arch are the scant remains of a Doom painting. The figures are now just pale outlines. A yellow horned devil can just be made out as well as the bright red flames of Hell fire.

The choir stalls are heavy victorian work. The organ on the north wall is set back under a pointed archway.

The east window is by Burne Jones depicting saints, angels and King Alfred before the Heavenly city. The marble reredos has the crucifixion at the centre with the Virgin Mary and St John on either side. This is set in an arcade of blind trefoliate arches. The rest of the east wall is covered with octagons with carved quatrefoil insets and patterned encaustic tiles at the centre. On the south wall is a three seater sedilia and piscina.

Round the tops of the window arches is Norman carving. Take time to look at the south window in the chancel in memory of James Hodgson who died in 1886. The detail in the glass are amazing. Then turn round to admire the Norman tympanum above the vestry door with its most unusual bird feather effect carving.

This is a huge church but I must admit it failed to enthuse me even though Simon Jenkin’s awards it four stars in “England’s Thousand Best Churches”. There are plans to remove the nave seating and open up the church nave for use by the village for concerts, farmer’s markets, youth and community groups. This is a village keeping the church at the centre of the community.

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