Heritage Highlights: Norman doorways, 14th century reredos, 15th century Easter Sepulchre
The earliest written record comes in 1069 when William the Conqueror granted the church here to Leofric, Bishop of Exeter. A photograph of the original deed, along with an English translation of the Latin text, is on display inside the church.
That early church was almost completely rebuilt in the late 12th century. One possible reason that it needed rebuilding is a fascinating written reference that from 1141-42 the tower was fortified and used as a castle. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound, for that date falls within the period of the Civil War between Queen Matilda (Maud) and King Stephen. There was military action in this region - we know that Oxford Castle was besieged - so it is certainly possible that the church was used as a temporary military fortress and was damaged in action. Our source for this event is the Gesta Stephani ('Deeds of Stephen'), a 12th century account of King Stephen's reign by an anonymous monk.
As you approach the church the very first thing that draws your eye is a wonderfully carved Norman doorway set in the wall of the south transept. This is carved in two orders of chevron and zig-zag patterns, and a pair of worn Green Men are carved on the jamb capitals.
Almost directly opposite the entrance door, in a niche against the north wall, is a large statue of St John the Baptist. This carving dates from about 1270, and was originally decorating the tower. It fell from the tower during a storm in 1990 and was moved inside the church to preserve it.
Even older is a stone reredos, set behind the altar. This is a very nicely carved example of 14th century work, with a row of 12 apostles flanking a figure of Christ, each within a canopied niche. The reredos appears to have been cut from a single block of stone. To the south of the altar is a three-seat 13th century sedilia. Wonderfully carved heads decorate the space above each column of the sedilia arches.
Other items of note include the square stone font, and the exterior west door to the tower, which is well-preserved, protected under the tower arch.
Summing up St Mary's Church
Bampton's ancient church is an absolute delight to visit; one of the most enjoyable and historically interesting in Oxfordshire, and well deserves a visit. I loved it!
Address: Church View,
England, OX18 2LW
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: Not signposted, but quite near the library, which is. Adequate roadside parking. Usually open daylight hours.
Website: Bampton, St Mary's Church