OHCT Summer Lecture, Wolfson College, 1 July 2018

‘The endless joy of variety: social and geographical difference in English medieval parish churches’

Professor Nigel Saul, Emeritus Professor at Royal Holloway College and one of the leading experts in the history of medieval England, delivered a fascinating and entertaining lecture to members on a glorious summer evening in Oxford.

Looking at a number of medieval parish churches, including many in Oxfordshire familiar to members from past OHCT visits, he outlined the geological, social and historical reasons that affected their architectural development. By examining geology and landscape, wealth, patronage, ownership of advowson, decentralization of worship (the removal of the monastic monopoly and the building of private chapels and chantry chapels) and the influence of lordship (the correlation between wealth and architecture), he was able to demonstrate how a social and geographical approach can add to the experience when visiting the beautiful churches that survive in the county.  In particular, his talk included interesting insights into how connections between the masons and patrons involved in buildings in wealthy centres such as Oxford City and Windsor as well as in humbler parishes led to architectural features being copied from those centres into parish churches: for instance, gargoyles at Adderbury resemble those in Merton College Chapel, and there are windows at Burford which closely match those in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Professor Saul spoke engagingly and enthusiastically for almost a full hour, time which passed very rapidly, and the audience would happily have listened for longer.

Discussions were adjourned to the garden of the college for drinks and canapes. Our thanks to the President for allowing us to use the college as a venue for our Summer Lecture.