The Diocese of Oxford

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Where the Chilterns meet the Thames in the Diocese of Oxford

History of St Mary the Virgin, Ipsden

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Ipsden Church

Introduction

The church of the fields.
A beautiful medieval building of tranquility and rural views.

This ancient church, set in beautiful countryside has been a place of worship for over nine hundred years and has links with the beginning of Christianity in this part of Oxfordshire. We hope you enjoy your visit: we who are fortunate to live here are the trustees for our generation. Do spend a while in quiet prayer for us and for yourselves, and if you would like to help us in our responsibilities in caring for this ancient building we would be glad of your contribution.

Church History

Tradition has it that the first church in Ipsden was a small chapel on Berins Hill, about 2 miles east of the present church, built by St Birinus when he came from Rome in AD626 to convert the Saxon peoples of South Oxfordshire. He became the first Bishop of Dorchester and fixed the parish boundaries which survive to this day.

The second Ipsden church was in a field south of The Street opposite the Old Vicarage, about ˝ mile south of the present church. It fell into disrepair in the 12th century and was eventually demolished: the materials were used to repair and enlarge the present church which was much smaller and a mere upland chapel for the adjoining parish of North Stoke. This church, on the present site, became Ipsden Parish Church, but the change probably was also the origin of the legend of the Devil taking away the stones of Ipsden Church. As late as the early 19th century there were still people in Ipsden who referred to it as the ‘Church on the hill’ and refused to give it to its proper title.

Ipsden Church Interior

The oldest part of the present building is the North Chapel, almost certainly the old North Stoke Upland Chapel: there is a small stained glass window in the west wall of the chapel which is a typical Norman window. The clear glass window opposite is a decorated window dating from the late 14th or early 15th century and is probably on place of a chancel arch. The wall painting round this window was completed around 1400 and was cleaned and restored in 1990 - the whole wall was probably covered with a simple floral decoration and the surviving example of this can be seen near the lower south ledge of the window. Outside there are remains of Saxon stonework.

The present chancel is said by Pevsner to be late 12th century and the memorial brasses dedicated to Sir Thomas Englysche and his wife are dated 1525. The Englysche family were landowners in the 15th and 16th centuries and there is still an Englysche farm near Ipsden Heath. The name is a mixture of 13th and 14th century work and at one time there was a South Aisle, traces of which are still clearly visible. The gallery at the west end of the bell tower was built about 1860 as a memorial to John and Anna-Marie Reade of Ipsden House. The organ was installed at the end of the 19th century and is a remarkably fine instrument for a small country church, although unfortunately it blocks all the light from the west window.

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