The church website http://www.greatwitleychurch.org.uk/index.htm says ‘The church, now almost fully restored, displays a splendour which is unique amongst country churches in Britain’. This is not an understatement – the church is magnificent.
Thomas Foley of Stourbridge in Worcestershire bought the Witley estate in 1655. At that time a sandstone medieval church stood to the west of the current site. His grandson Thomas III decided to build a new church but died in 1732 before work started. It was left to his widow Mary and son Thomas IV, the second Baron Foley, to pay for the new church, which was built closer to the court, was of similar size and had access to the court through a door in the east transept. The church was completed in 2 years probably to designs of James Gibbs. It was plain with a brick exterior and stone dressings matching the facade of the court at that time. The outside of the court and church were later covered in Bath stone.
The Georgian church was transformed in 1747 when the second baron Foley acquired at auction the windows, ceiling paintings and organ from the chapel of the great house of Canons, Little Stanmore, near Edgeware, Middlesex. The owner James Brydges 1st Duke of Chandos, had lost most of his money in the South Sea Bubble in 1720.
The mosaic panels of the reredos were brought from Venice by Rachel 2nd Countess of Dudley in 1913 to replace the original panels. The wooden tresses between the panels are original and are in the style of Grinling Gibbons the 17th C wood carver.
The font is of white marble set on a black base. The marble was carved by James Forsyth (1826-1910) who, with his brother, carved the fountains in Witly Court.
The feature most people remember is the ceiling paintings by the Italian artist Antonio Bellucci (1654 -1726). They are oil on canvas and depict the Descent from the Cross, The Ascension and The Nativity.
The Foley Monument dates from 1735, and is one of the tallest funerary monuments in the country. The Monument was designed and carved by Michael Rysbrack, who was born in Antwerp in 1694. It depicts the first Lord Foley and his wife with five of their children.
There are ten painted glass windows depicting scenes from the New Testament. Nine of these follow the life of Christ in a chronological sequence. All were executed by Joshua Price in 1719 and 1721 from designs by an Italian artist. These windows are considered to be the finest example in Britain of combined stained glass and enamel painting.
The view back down the Nave towards the west entrance and the organ.