North Stoke Church and its wall paintings
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Marvellous 14th century wall paintings in the nave
The tower collapsed in 1669 and was not repaired until 1725, giving it a slightly different look to the rest of the church.
The main historical interest at North Stoke is a quite wonderful array of 14th century wall paintings covering much of the nave. The quality of the painting is rxceptional, and though many scenes are now fading, you can clearly make out most of the individual figures. It must have been an astonishing sight when first painted.
On the north nave wall (on the top tier) is a scene depicting the Martyrdom of St Stephen. Look for the figure with crossed legs; this is the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, who sits in judgement of Stephen when he is brought to trial for blasphemy. The crossed legs are symbolic of a tyrant. Stephen is guarded by a soldier with the face of a dog, indicating brutality. On the right is the scene of Stephen's stoning, with three figures holding stones.
This cycle starts with a view of the Last Supper, with Christ at the far right of the scene (rather than the Davinci depiction most people will be familiar with, where Christ is in the centre). Judas would probably have been shown at the opposite end of the table, but there is no sign of him now. In the next scene Christ is broght before Pilate, shown seated, holding a sword. Like the High Priest (above) Pilate's legs are crossed, indicating a tyrant. In the next scene Christ is scourged with a cat-of-nine-tails. Next we see Judas receiving his coins for betraying Christ, then a very worn Crucifixion scene. Then we see the Three Maries at Christ's tomb, and the Risen Christ at the left-hand side of the scene. Much of this Passion Cycle is very worn, but still quite a bit of detail remains so that you can clearly make out the scenes - though a little imagination helps!
Thomas Becket Martyrdom
There is no visible figure of St Thomas himself; too much of the scene has faded over the centuries, but you can clearly see the four murderous knights, clustered tightly together. Thomas is probably the worn area in the lower right of the scene, having fallen to his knees after the first few blows were struck. One knight has his sword extended, exposing his shield, which probably had an heraldic device originally, but it is too faded to distinguish now. According to an eye-witness of the martyrdom, the first knight to strike Becket was Reginald Fitzurse, so the shield may once have born the Fitzurse symbol of a bear.
Over the chancel arch, the traditional place for Doom paintings. Very little detail of this scene can be made out.
Other scenes include three figures rising from a grave (north wall), the Annunciation (above the south door), the Martyrdom of St Catherine (north wall), and a winged demon (west window splay, south wall). One interesting scene is over the porch, where you can see three dead kings speaking to three living kings, saying 'What you are, we were, what we are, you will be'.
In the churchyard is the grave of Dame Clara Butt, a famed opera singer, who lived in North Stoke until her death in 1936. One of the most fascinating features is not apparent unless you walk around the outside of the church to the south chancel wall, where a very odd carved pair of hands seem to emerge from the wall to grasp a circular mass dial.
If you have the time, do what we did and make North Stoke part of an afternoon walk along the Thames Path. Within a few miles are medieval churches at South Stoke and Newnham Murren, and a wonderful Victorian chapel at Mongewell.
- Historic Highlights
- Remains of a Saxon piscina
- 13th century Crusader's chest
- Robert de Esthall grave slab (1274)
- Peculiar mass dial, north exterior
- 14th century chancel and nave
- 15th century north porch
About North Stoke
Address: Church Lane, North Stoke, Oxfordshire, England, OX10 6BQ
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the Thames Path, just off the B4009 2 miles south of Wallingford.
Website: North Stoke
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Mongewell, St John's Church - 0.9 miles (Historic Church)
Newnham Murren, St Mary's Church - 1.5 miles (Historic Church)
South Stoke, St Andrew's Church - 1.8 miles (Historic Church)
Wallingford, St Leonard's Church - 1.8 miles (Historic Church)
Wallingford, St Mary le More Church - 1.9 miles (Historic Church)
Wallingford, St Peter's Church - 2 miles (Historic Church)
Wallingford Castle - 2.1 miles (Castle)
Lower Basildon, St Bartholomew's Church - 4.4 miles (Historic Church)
Nearest Accommodation to North Stoke: