On the busy pedestrianised Cornmarket, the Saxon tower of St Michael’s church is one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. A church was built just inside the north gate of the walled city before the Norman Conquest. It was an important building and one of only three churches in Oxfordshire which held property directly. It had a wealthy congregation and the rest of the church was rebuilt several times during the Middle Ages, but little is known of its early history. The building was substantially restored by GE Street in the C19th and again after a disastrous fire in 1953. The tower was restored in 1986 and is now the easiest church tower to climb in Oxford with a wooden stairway.
It is also the city church, a role taken over from “St Martin’s Church”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/oxfordshire/oxfordcity/st_martin/index.html at Carfax and then “All Saints’ Church”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/oxfordshire/oxfordcity/allsaints/index.html on High Street. The Lord Mayor and Corporation attend Civic Services here several times a year in their designated pew. The decorative stand holds the Lord mayor’s mace.
In some ways it is quite a plain church inside with an arcade of octagonal pillars and pointed arches separating the nave and side aisles. The organ on the north side of the chancel has most unusual horizontal pipes. On either side of the pillars into the chancel are statues of St George and the Archangel Michael.
The south aisle chapel is the baptistry with a C14th font which was originally in St Martin’s Church.
In the north aisle is the Lady Chapel. The beautiful reredos is late C13th although the figures were added in 1938. On the left is St Frideswide, patron saint of Oxford. In the centre is the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and on her right is St Mildred, Abbess of Minster in Kent. The three small piece of stained glass in the window above are from about 1500. In the centre is a rare depiction of Christ crucified on a Lily plant. This was a typical feature of C13th iconography in England.
There is a small charge to go up the tower. On the first floor is the small treasury with its display of church plate from St Martin’s, All Saints’ and St Michael’s Churches. The church chest dates from 1652 and has three keys which were held by different members of he congregation, elected annually. All three had to be present to unlock the chest. Higher up is the clock mechanism and the bells. From the top there are good views across Oxford.
The church is open from 10.30-5pm in the summer or 4pm in the winter months. There is a small shop. This is worth visiting and the climb to the top of the tower really is easy.
The post code is OX1 3EY and the grid reference is SP 513064.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/oxfordshire/oxfordcity/st_michael/index.html