A Norman chapel stands on the steep hillside above Chadlington. On a cold day in March the wind drives snow across the churchyard and rattles resilient patches of snowdrops. How many snows has this simple building seen, how many travellers have sought shelter from a howling storm, having climbed the steep hill from the River Evenlode below. Standing among the yew trees, on the bone-rich ground, the view from the churchyard is ancient, little altered by the passing years. At the end of a narrow lane All Saints has a few cottages for company, it is hard to tell whether these humble buildings are survivors of a larger village or have always stood isolated among the fields. It is easier to imagine the numberless generations of locals summoned here by bells to celebrate the passing ceremonies of Christian calendar.
The exterior of All Saints is austere, a simple two-cell Norman chapel extended to the south in the 15th century with a Georgian east window added during a major early restoration. The church consists of nave, chancel, an east belfry and 19th century south porch although outer and inner doors appear much earlier in date. Step inside and you are confronted by the Middle Ages in all it’s symbolic complexity and the belief that the intervention of saints can influence our daily lives. A palimpsest, medieval saints overwritten with later biblical texts cover large areas of the nave walls, giving a faded impression of the elaborate decorative schemes that were common to all our pre-Reformation churches. A round-headed lancet survives in the north wall of the nave. The small 13th century chancel arch of two pointed chamfered orders is off-centre due to the nave being extended to the south. The south wall has two Perpendicular windows, a doorway and a piscina to the east, all of a similar date. A large squint to the south of the chancel arch connects nave and sanctuary. The west wall of the nave has a Tudor window and a blocked Georgian opening which may once have been one main doors of the church. An atmosphere of antiquity is emphasised by the 18th century pulpit, reading desk and box pews which tower over the east end of the nave. Opposite the door is a Norman tub font which has seen over 900 years of service. If you look through the Georgian east window of the chancel the tower of Spelsbury church can be seen in the distance, the chancel was rebuilt in the 18th century re-using a Decorated window in the south wall.
The real rarity of All Saints is the fortunate survival of several passages of medieval decoration preserved from destruction under a layer of whitewash. The earliest decoration surviving surrounds the 13th century round-headed north nave window, red lines mimic the pattern of stonework and small red floral motifs have been added to the window splay.
To the left of the blocked north door is a representation of St Frideswide, an 8th century princess who became a nun, choosing the church over a royal suitor, who was blinded when he attempted to force her into marriage. She became patron saint of Oxford and although her shrine was destroyed in the Reformation she is believed to be buried in Christ Church, Oxford.
To the right of the door is the figure of an archbishop, which might be St Edmund of Abingdon or a rare survival of an image of St Thomas a Becket, a particular target for iconoclasts due to his defiance of royal authority. The image shows the archbishop teaching a child to read.
To the west of the round-headed window is a fragmentary 14th century priest thought to be a depiction of St Leonard, patron saint of Eynsham Abbey, who owned the patronage of Shorthampton.
Over the chancel arch the remains of a Doom have been obscured by a Royal Coat of Arms. The Last Judgement, with the just ascending to heaven while sinners are thrown into the mouth of hell, is a common subject for the chancel arch, after the Reformation every church had to display the Royal Arms.
The squint was inserted in the 15th century to enable those in the widened southern portion of the nave to be able to witness the elevation of the host, during the celebration of the Mass. "The Legend of the Clay Birds" is depicted inside the squint, the Virgin Mary holds the Christ child and St John, although St.John might be holding a Goldfinch. The legend derives from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of St Thomas which describes the Christ child making clay birds which he then brings to life.
To the right of this is "the Agony in the Garden" but there are two layers of paint which makes the imagery difficult to read.
The left reveal of the easterly south window of the nave has a small mid-15th century figure in an elaborate green dress. This is St Sitha, also known as Zita of Lucca, the patron saint of maids and domestic servants, often depicted holding a set of keys and said to help supplicants in finding items they have lost.
Between this window and the south door is a panel which shows St Loy or the "Legend of St Eligius", patron saint of blacksmiths and metalworkers, depicted shoeing a horse. A 7th century goldsmith famous for the building of churches.
Biblical texts replaced images of saints in the reign of Eward VI who ordered their destruction in 1548. The Creed appears on a large panel over the door and the west wall has a cartouche containing King Solomon’s prayer. Also on the west wall is a disembodied wing probably the remains of "George and the Dragon" though possibly the Archangel Michael. There are also many small fragments of wall painting including foliate decoration round the chancel arch.
All in all a wonderful voyage through time. Shorthampton is a few miles from Chipping Norton about 40 minutes from Stratford-upon-Avon
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