Sunday, 22 August 2010

St Margaret's Church, Binsey

Today was a lazy, hazy late summer day here in Oxfordshire, so I headed off on a lazy bike ride with E. Along the way, I finally managed to see a small country church that I have been longing to see for some time now -- St Margaret's Church, in Binsey, which is just to the east of Port Meadow. It's a 12th century Norman church dedicated to St Margaret, who supposedly escaped a dragon by making the sign of a cross at it. Although that technique did not appear in "How To Train Your Dragon", it seems as effective as any other remedy against a marauding dragon, so I'll believe it.

The last time I tried to see this church, there was a wedding happening there, so it didn't seem like the time or place for me to stick my bike-sweaty head inside. This time, however, the church and churchyard were deserted. I pushed the kissing gate open and into this place:

There were quite a few new gravestones in the churchyard, as well as quite a few old enough that their faces were wiped clean and/or they had sunk into the ground. Here was the oldest legible one:

There is also a well in the churchyard -- prompting me to observe that I wouldn't want to drink out of a shallow well that shares its water table with a lot of decaying corpses. E said, "Isn't that how the Brontes died?" A little bit of wiki research into the Bronte family indicates that a. that wiki article is in dire need of editing, because while it is stuffed to the gills with information it is terribly written and b. "The following year [Charlotte] died aged 39. The cause of death given at the time was tuberculosis, but it may have been complicated with typhoid fever, the water at Haworth being so contaminated from the lack of any sanitation and the vast cemetery that surrounded the church and the parsonage...". Wiki also indicates that every other member of the family also died of some complication from TB. So: don't drink from this well.

A bit more research [read: google search] also uncovered that the well was a site of pilgrimage from the Anglo-Saxon period, as it apparently has healing properties credited to St Frideswide, Oxford's patron saint and founder of the abbey where Christ Church College is now. It is also probably the "treacle well" from Alice in Wonderland. The church's webpage encourages visitors to say a prayer at the well, not to take a drink.

Though the church is quite small, it has a neat little bell tower, very similar to many others in Oxfordshire (and presumably the rest of England):

Stepping inside, the church has quite a few treasures. Immediately facing the doorway is this wall hanging depicting the lion and unicorn crest of Great Britain. The letters in the top -- A and R -- indicate that it dates from the time of Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702-1714 (apologies for flash).
One of the more legible memorial stones on the floor of the nave:
And a view looking away from the altar... E noted that the ceiling beams had been redone in the past century, as they were sawn by machine.
Crest of Oxford, carved into the pulpit!
The altar.

Unknown crest and Google Goggles could not figure it out. Why not, Goggles? All I can pick out is a Yorkshire rose...
Pretty statue of the Virgin on the a windowsill.
Outside of the church, there were a few curious goats in a pen. They had little beards and bangs and were quite cute!

All in all, a lovely way to spend a morning.

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