01 November 2022
Saint Mary’s Church has been at the heart of Bloxham in Oxfordshire for almost 1,000 years, providing a focal point for Christian worship and prayer.
Saint Mary’s, which I visited last week, is a Grade I listed mediaeval church and it has been described by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘one of the grandest in the country.’
Saint Mary’s Church stands on the hill dominating the village three or four miles south-east of Banbury in the north Oxfordshire countryside. The church has stood on the site for almost 1,000 years, and the 198 ft spire can be seen from miles around, a key landmark across the North Oxfordshire countryside.
The church also has an East Window is regarded as ‘one of the finest examples’ in Oxfordshire church of some of the best if not in Britain of Pre-Raphaelite stained glass by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.
The first documentary evidence of a church on this site is found in a charter in 1067 when William the Conqueror granted the church and the rectory estate to Westminster Abbey.
King Stephen built a chantry chapel there in the 12th century, when he gave two fields from his royal manor to pay a priest to say daily masses for the repose of the soul of his mother Adela, the daughter of King William I.
Henry II granted patronage of the church to Godstow Abbey near Oxford, causing Westminster Abbey to complain to the Pope. However, the Pope allowed Godstow Abbey to retain the church provided it made an annual payment to Westminster Abbey.
The church has some notable remaining fragments of Norman architecture, including fragments of 12th-century masonry, two doorways and the responds of the chancel arch. The re-set 12th century doorway in north wall has tympanum with a fish scale pattern.
The arcades date from the rebuilding of the original nave in the 13th century, but the present church was mainly built in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The chancel and aisles were rebuilt in the early 14th century, as were the north and south porches. At this time the church was ornamented with much fine stone sculpture, including tracery and ornate capitals, much of which survives. It may have been crafted by a school of masons who carried out similar work on the nearby churches of Adderbury, Alkerton and Hanwell.
The tower is thought to have been built between 1300 and 1340. The tower of five stages has angle buttresses, with niches, string courses to all stages and louvred lights to bell stage. At the fifth stage, the tower forms an octagon under the spire, and the broaches are marked by corner pinnacles. The octagon has a cornice of blind tracery, and the spire has canopied lucarnes.
Fragments of mediaeval wall paintings survive inside the church, including a Doom painting over the chancel arch and Saint Christopher over the north doorway. Remnants of 14th-century stained glass survive in some of the windows. The church’s elaborate rood screen dates from the 15th century, with fragmentary remains of painted figures.
Over the west door of the tower is a carving of the Last Judgment. The doorway itself is heavily carved, with depictions of animals, foliage, birds, beakheads, and traditional ballflower ornamentation. The hood-mould is carved with the 12 Apostles on thrones, with Christ with angels presiding over the whole scene.
The south chapel or Milcombe chapel was added in the Perpendicular Gothic style in the 15th century. The stonework is a fine example of the work of a renowned Banbury based group of stonemasons. Although the patron and the architect are unknown, it is likely that the new chapel was designed by Richard Winchcombe.
The 15th century baptismal font has a Jacobean cover.
With Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries at the Tudor Reformation in the 1530s, the advowson or patronage of Bloxham parish church passed to Crown, which granted it to Eton College in 1547.
The Milcombe chapel contains a number of 18th-century monuments to members of the Thornycroft family and the tomb of Sir John Thornycroft (1725). Other monuments to this family include Elizabeth, Lady Thornycroft (1704), John Thornycroft (1687) and his wife Dorothy (1718).
Saint Mary’s Church was restored in 1864-1866 and significant renovation was carried out under the direction of the Gothic Revival architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881), who also built the Royal Courts of Justice in London and rebuilt Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
As well as stabilising the spire, Street’s work includes one of his best-preserved chancels in existence, including the pulpit, choir stalls, reredos, flooring and other elements designed specifically for Saint Mary’s.
At the same time, the church was provided with three important Pre-Raphaelite stained-glass windows. William Morris, Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Philip Webb created the east window, filling the four-light west window that has unusual tracery with carved figures.
The East Window is regarded as ‘one of the finest examples’ in an Oxfordshire church of some of the best Victoria stained glass in Britain. Charles Sewter says it is ‘certainly one of the most beautiful windows of the firm’s first decade of activity.’
The four main lights show (with their attributions):
Top row (from left): Angels with censors (Burne-Jones), Michael and Raphael (Morris), Saint Peter and Saint James (Burne-Jones), Ezekiel and Saint John the Baptist (Burne-Jones);
Bottom row (from left): Saint Alban and Saint Stephen (Burne-Jones), King Alfred and King Louis (Burne-Jones), Saint James Bishop of Jerusalem (Burne-Jones) and Saint Augustine (Morris), and Saint Cecilia and Saint Catherine (Burne-Jones).
Burne-Jones also created the stained glass window of Saint Christopher in the chancel and the window depicting Saint Martin of Tours. Other windows are by Charles Eamer Kempe.
Further alterations were made to the church in the 20th century, when the north aisle was dedicated as the War Memorial Chapel.
The high altar became used less frequently with the addition of a nave altar.
The Milcombe Chapel was screened off by a local craft worker, who was also commissioned to create the Millennium Screen at the west end of the central aisle.
The church has a large graveyard, which has been expanded to the east several times.
While the building is historic, the parish is developing a space to serve the community throughout the week, providing a space for community events, concerts and theatrical productions.
The parish was taken to a Church of England consistory court in 2018 for having removed seven Victorian pews from the church to create a children’s play area without applying to the Diocese of Oxford for the necessary faculty. The Victorian Society testified that the pews had been badly stored, causing them to deteriorate. The court granted retrospective permission for the removal of the pews, but ordered that four of them be returned to the church.
Christopher Rogers, deputy chancellor of the Diocese of Oxford, called the decision ‘highly unfortunate, to put it mildly.’ He found that the current vicar and leadership team were not in charge when the decision was taken and added that he had the ‘greatest sympathy’ in having to deal with the ‘mess’ left by their predecessors.
He said: ‘A degree of change and the removal of some pews was necessary in order to serve the wider community and to remain a sustainable place of worship.’ Retrospective permission for the removal was granted but four of the pews must be returned to the church.
A traditional local rhyme says:
Adderbury for length
Bloxham for strength
King’s Sutton for beauty
Nevertheless, Saint Mary’s Church, Bloxham, remains one of the real gems among Oxfordshire churches.
The benefice is now combined with those of Milcombe and South Newington, of which Our Lady of Bloxham is the main church. The Vicar is the Revd Dale Gingrich.
The Sunday services are: 8 am, Holy Communion, a traditional, spoken service using the 1662 Book of Common; 9:30 am, Holy Communion, with hymns, choir and a sermon; except on the fourth Sunday, when there is a café style family service without communion; 6 pm, Evening Prayer following the Book of Common Prayer, with Choral Evensong takes place on the fourth Sundays. Schools in Bloxham use the church for their annual Christmas services.
Today is in the Church Calendar is All Saints’ Day (1 November). From its earliest days, the Church has recognised as its foundation stones those heroes of the faith whose lives have excited others to holiness and has assumed a communion between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven.
The celebrations of the feast of All Saints began in the fourth century. At first, it was observed on the Sunday after the feast of Pentecost; this was to link the disciples who received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the foundation of the Church, with those who were martyrs, giving their lives as witnesses to the faith. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III (731-741) dedicated an oratory to All Saints in Saint Peter’s, Rome, on 1 November. Within a century, this day was observed in Britain and Ireland as All Saints’ Day.
Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.
For the rest of this week, I am reflecting in these ways:
1, One of the readings for the morning;
2, A reflection based on seven more churches or chapels in Oxford I have visited recently;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
Luke 6: 20-31 (NRSVA):
20 Then [Jesus] he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.’
The Chapel, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford:
It is seven months ago today since I was discharged from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford on 1 April, where I was treated after suffering a stroke two weeks earlier on 18 March.
On All Saints’ Day, I am remembering with thanks all the ‘saints’ who cared for me then in hospitals in Milton Keynes, Oxford and Sheffield. In this morning’s reflections, I am revisiting the chapel in the John Radcliffe Hospital, which stands within All Saints’ parish in Headington.
The John Radcliffe Hospital (‘the JR’) is a teaching hospital and forms part of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It is named after John Radcliffe (1650-1714), an 18th-century physician, politician and pious Anglican who endowed the Radcliffe Infirmary, the main hospital for Oxford from 1770 until 2007.
John Radcliffe gives his name to a number of landmark buildings in Oxford, including the Radcliffe Camera in Radcliffe Square, the Radcliffe Infirmary, the Radcliffe Science Library, Radcliffe Primary Care, the Radcliffe Observatory and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Headington.
Radcliffe was educated at University College Oxford (BA 1669) and became a Fellow of Lincoln College. He resigned his fellowship in 1677, partly to avoid taking Holy Orders, as was required by the college statutes, and partly because he had quarrelled with the rector, Dr Thomas Marshall.
As an undergraduate, Radcliffe had been much influenced Obadiah Walker, then senior tutor at University College.
Walker became master of University College and after James II’s accession declared his Catholic leanings. However, Walker’s efforts to convert Radcliffe to the Roman Catholic Church were firmly rebuffed by his friend former pupil. In a letter to Walker in 1688, Radcliffe emphasised his steadfast devotion to the Church of England.
Severe illness in 1703 deepened Radcliffe’s piety. When almost dying, ‘he behaved himself’, in the words of an acquaintance, ‘much like a good Christian’, and would admit no physician, preferring instead the company of Dr George Hooper, the Dean of Canterbury.
In the years that followed, he made several gifts in support of Anglican causes that underline his strong High Church sympathy. He gave £520 to Dr William Lloyd, the nonjuring Bishop of Norwich, in 1704 for distribution among 50 poor nonjuring clergymen. That year he also gave £50 to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, now USPG), and only agreed that the gift be publicised to encourage more subscriptions.
Radcliffe gave £300 to Dr Thomas Sprat, Bishop of Rochester, in 1707 for the relief of the Episcopalian clergy in Scotland, saying: ‘The insupportable tyranny of the Presbyterian clergy in Scotland, over those of the episcopal persuasion there, … make[s] it necessary that some care should be taken of them by us’.
In later life, Radcliffe concerned himself with theological issues, especially the preservation of the Church of England. He was a member of the commission for building 50 new churches in London from 1711 until he died, and gave generously to churches in Oxford, including Saint Mary’s Church and All Saints’ Church, now the library of Lincoln College.
In preparing his will, Radcliffe was determined that the infant son of his close friend, the Earl of Derwentwater, a Jacobite, should not follow his father’s Catholicism but be reared an Anglican. In the letter offering a substantial legacy, Radcliffe expressed the strength of his commitment to the Church of England, saying its faith ‘is what has been originally taught by Christ and his Apostles, and will lead him to eternal happiness.’ Derwentwater, however, was adamant that his son should be a Catholic.
Radcliffe died on 1 November 1714. He was given an impressive funeral at Saint Mary’s Church, where he was buried. His money went to the John Radcliffe Infirmary, to fund the Radcliffe Camera outside Saint Mary’s, and to fund other institutions that bear his name.
Saint Luke’s Church was the chapel of the Radcliffe Infirmary on Woodstock Road, until the infirmary closed and the hospital sites in Oxford were consolidated.
John Radcliffe Hospital is the main teaching hospital for Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University, and incorporates the Oxford University Medical School. The distinctive large white-tiled structure occupies a prominent position on Headington Hill, on the outskirts of Oxford. The initial hospital building opened in 1972, the second, much larger building opened in 1979, and other facilities have since been added to the site.
All Saints’ Church, the parish church in Headington, was dedicated on All Saints’ Day, 1 November 1870. The Revd James Cocke was the vicar of All Saints’ Church for 63 years and was the longest-serving priest in the Church of England when he retired in 2020. In an interview with the Oxford Mail in 2015, he recalled the many changes he had seen in Headington, over more than six decades, including the building of the John Radcliffe Hospital.
Today’s Prayer (Tuesday 1 November 2022, All Saints’ Day):
you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Post Communion Prayer:
God, the source of all holiness and giver of all good things:
may we who have shared at this table
as strangers and pilgrims here on earth
be welcomed with all your saints
to the heavenly feast on the day of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd David Rajiah, Diocesan Prayer Co-ordinator for the Diocese of West Malaysia.
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
Let us give thanks for the lives and legacies of the saints who have gone before us. May we seek to be like them in our witness and devotion to the faith.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org