|St. Mary the Virgin, Charlbury||12th century north arcade|
|Altar at the west end and 17th century spiral staircase||Chancel partitioned from Memorial Chapel|
|A very stout door||Plaque showing rectors and vicars from 1234|
|Monument in the choir to Dr. Ralph Hutchinson||Monument to Midshipman Delmege|
The north aisle arcade, shown at the top right, is the oldest surviving part of the church and dates from the 12th century. The outside wall of the north aisle is 15th century and the porch 16th century but much of the remainder of the structure is 13th century. The tower was increased in height at the end of the 15th century and the clock was fitted in 1885. There are six bells, all made in 1716 by Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester.
A striking feature on entering the church is the fact that an altar has been placed at the west end under the tower, which is more visible from the aisles than the altar in the sanctuary. The Memorial Chapel to the south of the chancel has been partitioned from both the remainder of the south aisle and the chancel with wood and glass to create a room that can be used for meetings. It is always pleasing to see how an ancient building can be modified for modern use. This work was undertaken between 1990 and 1995 as part of a restoration costing £385,000.
A plaque shows the rectors and vicars from 1234. It was made in 1949 by Edwin Glasgow in memory of his wife. Among those mentioned is Robert King who became the first bishop of Oxford. The advowson was owned by the Abbey of Eynsham from 1094 until the Dissolution and in 1590 it passed to St. John's College, Oxford. The figures on the plaque are of a priest of the 13th or 14th century, Bishop Robert King, Dr. Ralph Hutchinson and a 19th century clergyman.
In the Memorial Chapel there is a plaque to commemorate Claude Philippe Delmege, a 16 year old midshipman who lost his life aboard HMS Cressy on 22 September 1914 in the North Sea. HMS Cressy, HMS Hogue and HMS Aboukir were on patrol when sighted by U9 under Commander Otto Weddingen. HMS Aboukir was the first to be hit and initially Captain Drummond thought that she had struck a mine. The other two cruisers halted to rescue the survivors and fell easy victims to the submarine. Eventually 837 men were rescued but 1459 died, many of whom were reservists or cadets. This was a very black day for the British Navy less than two months after the outbreak of the Great War.
When looking at country churches it is always a bonus to find an unexpected link with national history. Here at Charlbury is a monument to Dr. Ralph Hutchinson, President of St. John's College, Oxford and vicar of Charlbury from 1593 to 1606, who was one of the 54 translators employed on the Authorised Version of the Bible.
The first translation of the bible into English was by John Wycliffe (1328-1384). This predated both printing and the use of English in Parliament. Wycliffe had been a scholar at Oxford and an ambassador. He believed in a return to the religion in the bible, which did not mention popes and cardinals. He attacked clerical celibacy and indulgences and thought of pilgrimages as a form of idolatry. In these ideas he was more than a century ahead of Luther and the English Reformation. People sympathetic to this view were called Lollards, which is a Dutch word meaning mutterer or dissidents. Wycliffe's translations is not a very literary one but it put about 1000 new word usages into the English language. He did not work from original sources but from the existing Latin version of the bible, itself a translation from the original Greek of the New Testament. Wycliffe's bible was banned by parliament in 1382 and he died two years later. His work was condemned by the church and in 1428 his bones were exhumed and thrown in a river.
William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) worked in Germany on the old testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek when he translated the bible. He was a theologian and worked at both Oxford and Cambridge universities. He translated some of the works of Erasmus. In 1524 he moved to Hamburg and met Erasmus and Luther. By 1526 he had completed his version of the New Testament. When he attempted to import his work into England, ships carrying it were intercepted and the cargoes confiscated but some got through. This was during the period of Cardinal Wolsey. Bishops arranged to buy and then burn the books but Tyndale used the proceeds to print a new version. Tyndale proposed the supremacy of the king within the state and denounced both the Roman church and Henry's divorce proceedings. He worked in Antwerp in 1533 and by 1536 had largely completed his translation of the Old Testament. He was tracked down by agents of the Holy Roman Empire, tried for heresy then strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. However, such was the pace of change that within a few years the bible in English was available in churches throughout England.
In 1535, Miles Coverdale was adapting Tyndale's text in Zurich and dedicated it to Henry VIII. He also made use of Luther's German version and a Zurich translation. By 1537, only a year after Tyndale's execution, Henry VIII's chief advisors, Cromwell and Archbishop Cranmer, allowed publication in England and it was known as the Matthew Bible. Thomas Matthew was the front man in England for the venture in which John Rogers edited the works of Tyndale and Coverdale.
In 1539 the Great Bible was produced as an official version which Henry VIII commanded to be put in churches. Cranmer brought out a revised version in 1540 and wrote the preface. In 1560, two years after Elizabeth's succession, the Geneva Bible was published in England using Roman instead of Gothic type. This version drew on Continental versions and went through 96 editions by 1640. In 1568 the Bishops' bible was commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury to supersede the Great Bible.
Thomas Cranmer had been at Cambridge University and was a fellow of Jesus College. He may have met Erasmus there. In 1529 he came to the attention of Henry VIII as a supporter of the divorce from Katherine of Aragon and in 1533 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. In addition to being a scholar, theologian and gifted writer he was also a hard headed administrator in managing all the processes that were involved in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He was responsible for two prayer books. The version of 1549 was something of a compromise to keep traditionalists on board but the 1552 version was more Protestant. Cranmer also produced the 42 articles of religion to which all public servants had to subscribe. Thomas Cranmer was executed in 1556 in Queen Mary's reign. He was forced to recant his views but then recanted the recantation. When he was burned at the stake in Oxford on 21 March 1556, he held out the hand that had signed the recantation to be burned first. Hugh Latimer, formerly Bishop of Worcester and Nicholas Ridley, formerly Bishop of Rochester had been executed in Oxford the previous year on 16th October. The memorial to the "Oxford Martyrs" is shown below.
In the time of King James I, there was a move to revise the bible again and a team of 54 translators in six groups was employed. Two groups were from Westminster, two from Oxford and two from Cambridge. This produced the King James Authorised Version. The Revised form of the Authorised version was produced in 1890. Since then we have had the Good News Bible of American origin in 1954 and the New Revised Standard Version.
A Guide to the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Charlbury, with text by Hilda Pipe and Christopher Blake and drawings by Susan Wooley, produced by Alan Peebles and Judy French in 2000. This pamphlet is available in the church for 50 pence. The church has its own website which includes a series of small photographs to produce a panorama of the interior. There are also shots of the exterior including a winter scene.
Late Medieval England, a course at Wedgwood Memorial College, Barlaston, Staffordshire, Winter 2004/5 by Mike Higginbottom.