St Matthew’s Church, Langford

St Matthew’s Church, Langford, Witney, Oxfordshire

About St Matthew’s Church, Langford

The Parish Church of Saint Matthew, Langford is the Church of England parish church of Langford in the Diocese of Oxford. With its idyllic setting, St Matthew’s Church in Langford has played a central role in the village through the centuries, and today still features strongly in both its social and spiritual life.

The oldest parts of the present church at Langford are the bell tower and nave – built by Aelfsige of Faringdon around 1080. There was likely a church before that date, based on the two extraordinary carvings that are still on the church today.

The porch includes two Anglo-Saxon stone rood reliefs, but they are repositioned, and their original sites are not known. On the east wall of the south porch is a figure of Christ in Majesty, possibly 8th century, known as the Langford Rood and thought to be unique throughout England. The Rood, carved in limestone, has lost its head. It would not have fit into the niche in which it is now placed anyway.

On the south gable of the south porch is a crucifixion scene with Christ on the cross flanked by Mary and St John, believed to date from 1020-1040. There is evidence that it has been reused, with the alterations presumably made to fit the carving into the niche that it now occupies. Firstly, it has been assembled with Christ’s left and right arms swapped over. Secondly, the figures of Mary and St John have also been transposed, looking away from Christ. Traditionally Mary is on the right, and St John is on the left.

The church is an amazing example of the Saxon traditions and shows the highest quality of work undertaken by Saxon masons. It is perhaps the most important Saxon remains in Oxfordshire.

During the 1200s, the north and south aisles were added, with the south porch completed in the 13th century. Although at one time the porch had two storeys, the upper storey has since been removed, but its blocked doorway and the outline of the stairs are still visible inside the south aisle. The west walls of the nave and two aisles have a 13th-century lancet window.

In the 13th-century, the chancel was rebuilt wider and taller. The line of the former 11th-century Saxon roof against the east wall of the tower can be seen at the west end of the chancel. Suggestions that this was a rich parish at this time are due to the highly unusual features of the chancel windows and the elaborate aumbry in the north wall with six compartments under three gables.

In 1574 two flying buttresses were added to the north side of the north aisle, with one having an inscription dated in the reign of Elizabeth I. The pulpit is Jacobean, made in 1673. Parish records state that Thomas Whiting was paid £8.00 to create it. And a mechanical clock was installed in 1680, but it is now a static exhibit in the south aisle.

Beneath the altar are the memorial brasses of the Walter and Mary Prunes. He died in 1594, and she 1607. The detail of these brasses is exceptional and shows the style of dress worn by nobles in the Elizabethan period.

In 1829, the architect and builder Richard Pace carried out restoration and conservation work on the building. Further repairs were recommended by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ surveyor Benjamin Ferrey in 1848 and undertaken the following year. Then in 1864, the Gothic Revival architect Ewan Christian restored the nave roof to its original pitch.

St Matthews is now an exceptional Grade I listed building.

The Bells of St Matthew’s Church, Langford

The tower has a ring of six bells. Four were cast in 1741 by Henry III Bagley of Chacombe, Northamptonshire, who had a bell-foundry at Witney. The tenor and treble bells were by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1953.

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