Bloxham, Oxfordshire – St Mary the Virgin

We are having a marvellous couple of days at the Bloxham Festival of Faith and Literature – website – highly recommended! Just to prove we were here, here we are in a photo tweeted by the Reverend Richard Coles. Tell Northern Reader she should blog about it. The Church Times review the whole Festival here.

richard coles photo

St Mary’s church, Bloxham SP430356 is a short walk through the village from the school. I can’t find a church website, but there are some good photos here. It is a church that is well worth photographing. I walked up the road, past a lovely pump, and entered through the north door. I said hello to a gargoyle, but we’ll do the outside in a minute.

february c 062february c 064february c 066I bought a guidebook. The first written evidence for the church is 1067, when William I granted it to Westminster Abbey, then Henry II gave it to Godstow Abbey – Westminster Abbey unsuccessfully appealed to the Pope! At the Dissolution is reverted to the Crown, and was later given to Eton. The first permanent Vicar was John of Verdun, presented in 1221. I wonder if he had teddy bears.

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It is a lovely church, C14 Nave with an attractive modern altar. The Rood Screen is marvellous. It is C15 and was given by Cardinal Wolsey after the church had suffered much damage in the Wars of the Roses. It lost its rood and the top was repainted in Victorian times. The original panels survived untouched. On the centre doors we have the four doctors of the church (Gregory, Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine). We also have the symbols of the gospel writers, and other saints and angels.

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The organ is on the north side of the Chancel. The guidebook says that when one was installed in 1846 an old man complained “what singers they used to be and what voices they’d got, fit to knock the winders out. Bass viol, trombone and violins.” Could they lose the white chest of drawers? The doorway next to it has a re-set Norman arch – presumably it came from the original chantry chapel. King Stephen founded it to say masses for the repose of the soul of his mother, Adela, William the Conqueror’s daughter.

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On the south side C13 masons have seen to have reused C12 mouldings around a window. They are fascinating.

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At the bottom of the North Aisle pillar are some lovely carvings. If I had looked up I would have seen older and more amazing figures …

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In the Memorial Chapel, at the east end of the North aisle, the window (which dates from 1921)  was dedicated in memory of brother Gilbert and John Sutton and a friend (the fiancé of their sister) who died in WW1. The window was designed by Morris & Co. We have St Denys, Mary and Jesus, Sir Galahad and Joan of Arc, all designed by John Henry Dearle, the manager of the firm. St Martin was designed by Burne-Jones – the design was made in 1880 for the church of St Martin in Brampton, Cumbria (a church I haven’t yet got in to), and reversed for this church. St George is probably from a drawing made by one of the assistants. The flowers are probably reminiscent of Flanders Fields, and various regimental badges are included.

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This window in the Chancel is also by Morris & Co. It dates to 1920 and shows St Christopher. The cartoon was original drawn in 1867 for a window in Wigan.

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There are three lovely brasses on the north side wall, though they are not easy to photograph. They are to John Griffiths of Penrhyn (died 1632), Thomas Godwin, Vicar (1762) and Thomas Gabell (1754).

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Also on the north side, over the door through which I entered is a medieval wall painting of St Christopher. It was later covered with whitewash by the Puritans, whitewash removed in the 1864-6 restoration.

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At the west end is the Millennium Screen. I liked the mobile library – I spent summer 1983 working on the mobile out of Ely. It was a long hot summer as we drove our yellow library down Fen droves to pumping stations, and sat outside village shops eating ice lollies. Happy days!

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There is a nice C14 chest at the back of the church, originally used for vestment storage (though they would have had to be quite well folded to fit).

february c 100On the south side of the church is the Milcombe Chapel, which they have made into a very nice space. I like the big windows (C15 Perpendicular) and the circle of light. The large marble memorial is to Sir John Thornycroft (died 1725). I think the reredos figures are Victorian. I don’t know who made the Madonna and child.

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Moving outside, the porch and first floor is C14, second floor is C15. Outside is the most amazing collection of wheelie bins I have ever seen in a churchyard, and some lovely headstones.

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february c 108february c 111february c 115february c 109february c 116The outside of the church is as fascinating as the inside. I wish I had had a beautifully sunny day and a tripod – there is a limit to what I can manage to do. The parapet round the base of the spire is known as the Hollis (perhaps from Holies, the Sanctus sung from here on Trinity Sunday). We have some running pigs, and the old nursery rhyme “John, John, the old grey goose has gone”. John has his cudgel and his wife has her distaff. They are chasing the running fox with their goose in his mouth. These carvings were executed around 1340. Banbury may well have been the centre for some talented masons.

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On the West Door we have a representation of the Last Judgement over the door. On the left the good rising from their coffins to everlasting bliss, on the right the damned cast into hell’s mouth. This is a church to go back to with binoculars.

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It is worth noting that much of the work for the Festival was aided and abetted by members of this church – thank you!

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2 Responses to Bloxham, Oxfordshire – St Mary the Virgin

  1. Trevor Shepherd says:

    I am pleased that you enjoyed your visit to Bloxham and our church. The churchyard covers 3.5 acres in total and there is still space available for burials and cremated remains, which is quite rare in churchyards these days. As well as the wheeled bins shown in your photo there are 2 more bins at the far end of the churchyard. Cherwell District Council provide the bins and empty them every week, with most of the contents being recycled. It is quite easy for us (volunteers) to fill up to 9 brown bins with garden waste every fortnight, summer and winter, from such a large area.

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