Sparsholt, Holy Cross Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Three wooden effigies dating to the 14th century
That wooden Saxon church was rebuilt in stone some time in the 12th century. The tower and lowest sections of the nave survive from the 12th century building, but much of the rest is from a comprehensive rebuilding in the late 13th and early 14th century. Another 12th century survivor may be the north door, which boasts lovely iron strapwork and an original sanctuary ring. In medieval times an accused criminal who reached the sanctuary ring was free from prosecution for a period of time (often 40 days).
There is another decorated 14th century niche on the opposite wall from the founder's tomb which may have been used as an Easter Sepulchre. There is also a very attractively carved three-seat sedilia with ballflower decoration, which forms a unit with a piscina in the south chancel wall. Near the sepulchre is a late 15th century brass to Thomas Bathe with his two children, and near the sedilia is a further brass to John Fettiplace (d. 1602). here are brass inscriptions to four vicars of the parish; Thomas Todhunter (d. 1627), John Williamson (d. 1633), Richard Edmondson (d. 1674), and Nicholas Cook (d. 1603).
If the Sparsholt Effigies seem dim and dingy in the ill-lit transept, there is a solution; modern light switches can be found just to the right of the transept entrance. I only wish I'd found them before I spent ten minutes trying to photograph the effigies in semi-darkness!
The three south windows in the nave and the north window above the door contain fragments of medieval glass. The glass in the north window dates to about 1500. The left-most light in this window shows a female kneeling at a prayer desk, with a worn figure of St Catherine above. The centre light is less distinct, but shows a dragon of St Margaret over a female donor. The right light shows Latin lettering from a motto attributed to Cardinal Wolsey; 'The Lord is my shepherd'. This suggets that the glass was originally in the Hall of Wolsey's Christ Church College, Oxford, and was removed from the College by Henry VIII after Wolsey's fall from favour. The windows of the south wall have earlier glass, perhaps 14th century, with Christ in Majesty and arms of the Delamere and Achard families. There are small sections of 13th century grisaiiles glass (painted rather than stained). Even the plain glass is of medieval origin. One amusing bit of rhyming grafitti on the glass says 'Joseph Tuff cleaned some of these windows and that's enough'.
Summing up Sparsholt Church
A treasure trove of medieval brasses and memorials, Holy Cross is well worth a special trip to see. The Sparsholt Effigies and their elaborate tombs are quite exceptional. One of the best country churches in Oxfordshire.
Address: Church Way, Sparsholt, Oxfordshire, England, OX12 9PU
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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Nearest Accommodation to Sparsholt: