The 2023 Autumn Tour:  Churches in the Benefice of Shill Valley and Broadshire

Across two days in September (both identical with the exception of the lunch venue) we visited five of the eleven churches in the Benefice of Shill Valley and Broadshire.  They are stretched out in a line south to north between Lechlade and Burford.  The theme of this tour was to observe in some detail the history of the early Christian Church in Oxfordshire and to see how evangelism worked. Our first stop was St George, Kelmscott.  Best known for its association with William Morris it has a rich history preceding him by many centuries.  His love of this building halted further restoration and resulted in the establishment of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. We moved on to St Matthew, Langford one of two of the great Minster churches in this part of Oxfordshire responsible for spreading Christianity to the Saxon population via the other three which were Chapels of Ease until much later when they were all consecrated.  Until that time all the Chapels of Ease carried their deceased to the Minsters for burial. St Peter and St Paul, Broadwell came next.  A large Templars’ Minster, heavily restored in the 19th century but still carrying Grade I status along with Langford.  In each of the minsters we were treated to a detailed talk by local wardens/parishioners on aspects that your guide could not know! Lunch was next.  On the Friday tour we called at the Bell in Langford for delicious pizzas and on Saturday, because the Bell could not host us that day, we went to the Cotswold Wildlife Park for a very nice buffet in the Orangery through the good offices of Reggie Heyworth, the owner of CWP. The afternoons began at St George, Kencott, such a cunningly disguised church that it cannot be seen until you are immediately outside.  It holds some rare treasures.  The south door external tympanum has a bas relief carving of Sagittarius slaying a monster, displaying the early church overlap with ancient traditions of astrology.  It is of course the Christian zodiac sign of the time immediately before Christmas.  The altar table made by Richard Fyson, a parishioner, fashioned from English oak and inlaid with ebony and maple is quite splendid.  Behind the altar is a stone reredos retrieved from St Martins, Carfax in Oxford. We concluded with a visit to St Mary, Holwell.  This is a quite perfect 19th-century Gothic revival gem in total contrast to the previous four.  It is in stunningly good condition and may never need the generosity of OHCT!

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