OXFORDSHIRE, MARCH 

CHESTERTON, HETHE AND MIXBURY 

We left Bucknall and headed on to Chesterton, and the church of St Mary.  As with seemingly all the villages in this beautiful county, there is some real history here. The village, which can be found a mile and a half south west of Bicester, had Akeman Street, a Roman road, running through the village. A mile to the south of the village was Alchester, a Roman fort. Recent excavations have shown that it was the site of one of the earliest legionary fortresses in Roman Britain after the invasion of 43 AD.

The name Chesterton, or the old English form of it, means an enclosed space near a Roman Station. This was interesting to find out as my own home village is Chesterton near to Peterborough; which also stands very close to a Roman town and military fort.

The church here dates from the 12th century, but was rebuilt during the 13th century and re consecrated in 1238. The church was extended over the centuries, and restored in 1866. The structure that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.

The 14thcentury west tower is square, buttressed up to a third of the height; with the church clock greeting visitors as they enter from the west. There is a stair turret to the south east corner of the tower, this being built in 1866. A plaque on this reads ‘to the glory of God this turret was built by WPF 1866’.

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A pleasant looking church in a picturesque setting, the church surrounded on north and south sides by evergreen trees.  A large tree stump in the grounds has a plaque on it noting that the tree was planted by the vicar of the day, D Burton in 1724. It was blown over during a gale in January 1974, at the age of 250!

We had had a really successful time with regards open churches this day, with just one being closed to visitors as we reached Chesterton. This was out of bounds though due to builders working inside. A very pleasant and helpful man, who I took rightly or wrongly to be the vicar saw us though and said that we could go in if we wanted. I didn’t want to be in the way, and there was every possibility that all would have been covered up in dust sheets, so we politely declined and headed off to visit a couple more before the light faded.

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The church of St Edmund and St George, Hethe.

The next church photographed was at Hethe, and the church of St Edmund and St George.  This is a small village which can be found four and a half miles north of Bicester.  This may be a small village but at one point during the mid 19th century, there were three churches here.

As well as the Anglican church, a Roman Catholic church was built here in 1832 to cater to the Roman Catholic population of Hethe and the surrounding villages.  As well as this, a small Methodist chapel was built in 1854. This was in use as a chapel until 1955, and is now a private house.

It had been a strange day’s weather; a typical March day in England. We started the day travelling through torrential rain which turned in to snow for a brief time. This emptied the streets, as did the first lockdown which was implemented a few days later! We then alternated between beautiful sunshine, wind and light rain.

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The weather when we arrived at Hethe was glorious. The sun was shining down, the shadows were starting to lengthen and we were approaching that wonderful time when the sun reaches that certain spot and all turns golden for a brief time

The church consists of nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. There is no west tower here; just a very small west bell turret.

The church here dates back to the 12th century, with a restored door to the south dating from that time. There was much Victorian restoration here in 1859, with the small west bell turret dating from that time.

The church was open. Victorian pews lead down to the large chancel arch, ‘Ye shall reverence my sanctuary’ reads a banner across the top, this being a quote from Leviticus Chapter 26 verse 2.  The chancel itself is long and quite plain; and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. Uncluttered! 

A couple of home made banners stand at north and south sides of the chancel. The alter has a cross and candlesticks. There is no reredos. Another peaceful place to spend time in when things are challenging outside!

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The three light east window has the crucifixion as the centre piece. Jesus wears a cross of thorns, with white lilies at His feet; a symbol of purity. SALVATOR MUNDI it reads at Jesus’ feet, ‘Saviour of the world’. To the left as we look at it, the Virgin Mary reaches out a hand towards Jesus. John does the same from the right hand panel.

A ladder with enclosed support goes up to the belfry. It looked a little tight to be honest! I wasn’t tempted to climb it but if I had I would probably have been wedged in there quite badly and would doubtless have to be cut out.

A lot of work was completed here during the Victorian restoration but the tub font is very ancient and could well date back to the founding of the church here.  There were books for sale so I texted Gary and he came in to see if there was anything interesting.  I always like it when we see the interior of a church together. It is interesting to see his eyes start to glaze over when I start to talk on gravestone symbolism or seven sacrament fonts!

What a glorious little church! I enjoyed this one very much.

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We made our way to Mixbury, a village two and a half miles south east of Brackley. The old English name for this village was mixen burgh, which in modern language amusingly translated as the fortification by the dung heap! The fortification in question was Beaumont castle, which was built in 1100; earthworks to the north of the village being all that now remains.

The sun was starting to set and the shadows were lengthening as we arrived here. This is a lovely church in a delightfully rural setting.  The church consists of west tower, nave with north aisle but clerestories to both north and south;  south porch, vestry and chancel.

The church here dates back to the 12th century, with the nave and chancel dating back to that time. The north aisle and tower date from the 13th century.  There was much rebuilding work here during the 1840’s, including the rebuilding of the chancel arch.

I made my way up to the church by way of a path from the west. The square, perpendicular west tower greets the visitor, battlemented and buttressed; church clock facing out in the traditional blue and gold, with a perplexed looking grotesque human face high up on the tower

The church grounds are tree lined on three sides and a row of 18th century gravestones have been re-set in to a straight line running from north to south. The light quality was really good still but was due to fade pretty quickly. This was a beautiful sight! A glorious English village church!

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The church was open to visitors, with entry through the south door, which dates from the 12th century, and which has two orders of zig zag design on scalloped capitals.

The east window, which I think was created by Michael O Connor in 1850, is a delight!  My favourite window seen during my travels during 2020! I always enjoy wandering around a church, looking at the stained glass; doing a little private Bible study as I go. It is always good to do this when there is a series of panels, telling a story.

This is certainly the case here, where we have a series of nine panels telling the Easter story, from the triumphal entry to Jesus rising from the tomb (with the ascension thrown in for good measure in the tracery!)

The individual panels are as follows. (1) The triumphal entry. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, followed by His disciples. Palm leaves cover the floor, and a figure in a tree reaches down towards Jesus. (2) The Last Supper.  A standing Jesus offers the communion chalice to John. Judas is missing in this representation.  (3) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is at prayer, eyes raised upwards towards Heaven. An angel reaches out to Jesus while the disciples are asleep at His feet. A single figure appears through a gateway; the arresting party are imminent!

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(4) Jesus’ arrest. This is my favourite panel in this window. Judas, depicted without nimbus, kisses Jesus. Roman soldiers are at hand to arrest Jesus. Peter is depicted grappling on the ground, sword in hand; about to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus.  (5) Jesus’ trial. Jesus is blindfolded, with hand tied and wearing the crown of thorns. One figure bows down to Him mockingly, while another looks at Him with curiosity. (6) The Crucifixion.  Jesus is crucified with Mary and John close by. The background around the cross is blood red. Powerful!

(7) Christ’s body has been taken from the cross and Mary and John are still both present. My gut reaction was ‘Pieta’. According to Wikipedia though, which is never wrong I am sure, it is classed as a pieta when Jesus body is cradled by Mary alone. When other character(s) are included in the scene, it is classed as a Lamentation!

(8) Easter morning and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome go to the tomb, finding it empty. An angel appears, informing them that He has risen. This is an interesting depiction as the angel is not included. Normally the female figures would be included, along with the angel who would be pointing upwards. Not here though; just the women are included. Why?

My own thought on this is that in Jesus’ time women were seen as second class and subservient. In the feeding of the 3,000 and 5,000 the women present were not even included in the head count. Jesus was there for the marginalised; from the time of His birth when the first to see Him were the Shepherds, who were just about the lowest in that society of the time. It was women, with the exception of John, who were present at the cross and it was the three women who were the first to be present at the tomb that morning. I feel that the person who decided to just include the women here and leaving out the angel are just emphasising the point that the women on their own were sufficient! They were and are important!

(9).Jesus rises from the dead and kneels on top of the tomb, arms outstretched and wounds visible. He has risen!

To my mind, this is a phenomenal piece of work, so much so that I run a sequence on my Facebook page during Holy Week 2020, using all nine panels along with the appropriate Bible passages.  I have included this in a separate page, called MIXBURY STAINED GLASS, which can be found by scrolling down directly under this page.

High up in the tracery of this window there is also a depiction of the ascension. Christ is central and at the top, eyes closed and arms outstretched; angels on either side.  Below are two clusters of people who watch Him ascend. There are five people in a group to the left as we look at it, including Peter, with the customary key to the kingdom of Heaven. There are seven people in a group to the right; this includes on figure that is on his knees in prayer and another who has his head in his hand in disbelief!

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Well, that was it for another three months. Boris locked us down as a nation for three months in an address to the nation on March 23rd, as the pandemic hit us hard. All places of worship were closed with immediate effect, both for services and for private prayer.  All non-essential travel was also prohibited for that period. The camera was ‘retired’ for a few months, as we got our priorities in order and relegated our life’s ‘essentials’ to the back burner for a while for the greater good.