Sunday, 12 June 2011

St Michael at the North Gate, Cornmarket, Oxford

If you approached Oxford from the north 950 years ago, coming down St Giles, the most conspicuous building in your line of sight would have been the present church tower, dating from about 1050. It is probably the oldest surviving building in Oxford, rivalled only by the castle tower, and originally situated just within the North Gate, of the city, protected to the north by the city wall. All other traces of the original church have vanished, but a church there certainly was. After the tower, the earliest surviving parts of the church are the chancel, the eastern part of the south aisle (nearest the altar), and the south door, all dating from the 13th century.The church was substantially restored by G.E. Street in the 19th century, and again after a near disastrous fire in 1953. Since then the largest and most ambitious project has been the restoration of the tower in 1986.
The east window of the chancel contains four panels of high quality stained glass dating from the 13th century; it is some of the earliest stained glass in Oxford.

The Burma Star Association Window. The window represents the three services involved in the Burma Campaign. The glass on the left with the ships anchor represents the Royal Navy. The glass to the right with the motto 'Per ardua ad astra'represents the Royal Airforce. The centre glass shows the 14th Army, once known as 'The Forgotten Army'commanded by Bill Slim (later Field Marshall Lord Slim). The Japanese captured Burma and then crossed into India where the tide was turned at Kohima. The words on the memorial there are used each year on Remberance Sunday in Services all around Britain. FEPOW stands for far East Prisoners of War and below this is the Campaign Ribbon. The window was commissioned by Joe Blewitt a FEPOW who later became Mayor of Oxford.
The Saxon Tower: on the first-floor is the treasury containing rare silver - the earliest piece dates from 1562 - and the Charter of 1612, bearing the arms of James I. Further up the tower you is a 19th century clock mechanism and the door of the prison cell, situated nearby, through which the Protestant martyrs, including Archbishop Cranmer, stepped to their deaths in 1556.