St Katherine, Chiselhampton, Oxon

When the porcelain merchant Charles Peers rebuilt Chiselhampton church in 1762, he commemorated his wife by changing the church’s dedication from St Mary to St Katherine. Attributed to the architect Samuel Dowbiggin, it is a charming and simple church featuring an unspoilt interior dating from the rebuilding, and a domestic-looking belfry. The 17th c. pulpit was kept from the earlier church and made into a two-decker, accompanying 18th c. box pews throughout, a west gallery and a splendid example of a reredos complete with Creed, Decalogue and Lord’s Prayer.

In 1952 the parish was faced with an expensive restoration and enlisted some big hitters in support. The church was indeed restored; John Piper repainted the clock faces on the tower and John Betjeman penned some verses to pulbicize the campaigh. Yet a generation later St Katherine’s was to be made redundant and pass into the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust in 1978.

We have been told for years that the Church is the people, not the building. Very true. Yet Archbishop William Temple was right when he said `Christianity is the most materialistic of all great religions’, for did not Our Lord take on a material body at his Incarnation? A church building is a public demonstration of the existence of the body of believers; it is always there. So consider the dynamic tension between the material and the spiritual in Christianity, as you reflect upon the last few lines of Betjeman’s poem:

‘And must the building fall?
Not while we love the Church and live
And of our charity will give
Our much, our more, our all.’

Map reference: SU593988

Simon Cotton