Reverence and Devotion

I was amused to see this sign next to the door of a church today, almost as if it were a code for entry. It was the lovely Norman church of St. Mary Magdalene in the Oxfordshire village of Crowmarsh Gifford. I chanced upon it just after a service had finished, and the vicar kindly showed me a few of its features. Google doesn’t seem to have any record about this poster of principles and when it was published, but the Royal School Of Church Music was founded in 1945.

Inside, there’s a small brass commemorating the local Tudor recusant William Hildesley which now has its head missing, perhaps damaged by Parliamentarian troops who were stationed in the village during the Civil War. Crowmarsh Gifford is just over the Thames from the ancient town of Wallingford, whose large castle, a Royalist stronghold, was besieged in 1646. Interestingly, a 1645 poetic epitaph which bravely mentions Popes and Saints remains undamaged.

The vicar advised me to stop by its sister church, a short way along the Thames water meadows. So following a muddy footpath, I came to the adorably tiny St. Mary’s Newnham Murren. Here, another Tudor brass – of one Letitia Barnarde – bears damage from what’s thought to be Parliamentarian musket shot.

Across the bridge, Wallingford is also well worth a visit for its plentiful history. The castle was previously besieged during ‘The Anarchy’ of the 12th century, when it was held by the forces of the Empress Mathilda – a conflict which ended with the Treaty of Wallingford. Very little of its masonry survives now. In 1652, after Parliament’s victory, it was slighted to ensure it had no further military use. But its considerable earthworks remain, and they make for a very pleasant walk in the drier months, with a view of the youthful Thames.

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