Tucked away on the edge of a small Cotswold village is a quite extraordinary church, though it you would not guess this from the outside. St Nicholas at Oddington. I cycled out on Marjorie recently to see for myself. The church is located outside the village, as it is no longer the central place of worship, the original village being abandoned in the early 18th century and located further up the hill, possibly due to the usual cause of the Black Death.
Looking like a typically picturesque Cotswold church, it has an interesting graveyard and some unusual Restoration era tombstones, which are shown on my other blog here.
The South door inner archway is Norman and has an interesting serpents head detail at each end - maybe a reminder of why you are attending worship?
The stone benches inside have deep grooves which are said to be where arrowheads were sharpened. (Churches this old were also commonly the main defensive building and weapons stored in the porch roof).
So far, so quaint and historical. But when you enter the church proper, your breath is taken away by this -
What is thought to be our country's largest surviving Doom wall painting, dating to about 1340. I was literally rooted to the spot: imagine the effect it must have had on the original devout and largely illiterate Medieval congregation. Like all Dooms, this one shows in graphic and often lurid detail, the consequences of sin and the rewards of righteousness. The Godly are summoned to Heaven on Judgement Day by welcoming angels;
Christ sits over all in Glory.
For the Damned, sinister demons execute all manner of grisly tortures, to be endured for all eternity. Once you get used to looking at the (now) sombre tertiary tones it's quite easy to work out what torments are going on.
This part of the Doom is of a later date (1520) and there has been some speculation as to what this figure represents. The church pamphlet suggests that it is a reference to a contemporary play by the writer John Skelton, 'Magnificence' and it's various characters.
Seen with Jacobean pulpit nearby -
Looking down towards the 'newer' Early English Chancel -
Elsewhere there are traces of more decorations on the Early English archways here - the vivid turquoise blue coming from copper salt pigment.
But the Doom is not the oldest paintings to be found here - they are inside what was the original Saxon nave (where I am standing to take this photo) and chancel, and is now the South Chapel. It's easy to see how small and intimate it once was. (Note the old gurney, just to the right, a cheery little reminder of one's own mortality).
Inside the chancel which is also the bell tower and if you look beyond you can see on the far wall, to the right, some pale patterning. The first altar stone is still there as well.
A closer look shows trellis work and faces - as with all my photos, they are quite large, so do click on for detail.
There are always many layers to a church, and sometimes more recent relics can be just as touching as the antiquities - I love this little bell ringer's prayer, maybe about 30-40 years old, and probably barely moved since the day it was placed there.
And another *recent* treasure, this screen separating the old South Chapel from the main nave, looks quite plain and unremarkable, until you learn that it was made by Peter Van der Waals, an Arts and Crafts craftsman who worked in the Cotswolds at the beginning of the 20th century. As the church was being restored at this time, 1912, it must have been part of the restoration process, but I am speculating here.
After a very long time of pottering and wonderment, Marjorie and I cycled back towards Oddington. What had been a clear blue summer sky was now clouding over and we had eight miles to cover.
Needless to say we didn't make it. Two miles from home, the rain caught up with us. I arrived home drenched, but happy.
For more reading on the marvellous church and it's paintings, please visit here.