The large church is in a pretty village on the edge of the Vale of White Horse. Of special interest are three rare oak effigies of about 1300 depicting a knight and two ladies. They are in the south transept behind an elegant 14th-century screen.

That wooden Saxon church was rebuilt in stone some time in the 12th century. The tower and lowest sections of the nave survive from the 12th century building, but much of the rest is from a comprehensive rebuilding in the late 13th and early 14th century. Another 12th century survivor may be the north door, which boasts lovely iron strapwork and an original sanctuary ring. In medieval times an accused criminal who reached the sanctuary ring was free from prosecution for a period of time (often 40 days).

Sometime in the early 14th century the chancel was raised, the tower heightened, and a pair of transepts added. This work was undertaken by the rector, William de Herleston, and his relative, Sir Robert Achard, lord of the manor at Sparsholt. Sir Robert was lord of the manor from 1299 and de Herleston became rector in 1312. Curiously, both died in 1353. De Herleston is said to have sponsored the rebuilding of the chancel while Sir Robert was responsible for the south transept, but the work is so much a unity that it must have been a collaborative effort between the two men.

De Herlaston's memorial brass stands at the chancel entrance, while a tomb set in the south wall of the chancel was originally thought to be the resting place of Sir Robert. This tomb is in a style known as a 'founder's tomb'; a table tomb set within a decorated niche, usually against the chancel wall or actually set into the wall. It was thought that the effigy in the niche was that of Sir Robert, but it now seems that perhaps the effigy is that of an earlier Achard (c. 1300), moved here from the nave when the chancel was created.

There is another decorated 14th century niche on the opposite wall from the founder's tomb which may have been used as an Easter Sepulchre. There is also a very attractively carved three-seat sedilia with ballflower decoration, which forms a unit with a piscina in the south chancel wall. Near the sepulchre is a late 15th century brass to Thomas Bathe with his two children, and near the sedilia is a further brass to John Fettiplace (d. 1602). here are brass inscriptions to four vicars of the parish; Thomas Todhunter (d. 1627), John Williamson (d. 1633), Richard Edmondson (d. 1674), and Nicholas Cook (d. 1603).

The two female effigies are set in 14th century niches similar to those in the chancel. Lady Joan's head has a lion cub at her feet and her head is supported by twin angels. The base of her stone coffin us decorated with figures of nine men-at-arms. These military 'weepers' seem an odd touch for a noble lady, so it seems quite plausible that the coffin was actually designed for Sir Robert before his second marriage. Lady Agnes has a dog at her feet, and her head is supported by two nuns. Everything is symbolic in medieval art - Lady Agnes entered a nunnery after her husband's death, hence the carving on nuns on her tomb. As for Sir Robert - his head rests on his tilting helmet and there is a marvellous lion carving at his feet.

Holy Cross

  • Church Way
  • Sparsholt
  • OX12 9PU

OHCT Grants

  • 2010/2011
    Grant of £4,000 awarded for rebuild three chancel windows
Holy Cross is participating in the Ride and Stride event on Saturday 9th September 2017
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Tomb recess in chancel south wall
Fourteenth-century effigy in chancel tomb recess
Oak effigy of a lady
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