St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church, Checkendon
The 12th Century Church of St Peter and St Paul is a Grade One listed building containing fine examples of Romanesque architecture. It has a deeply prayer-soaked atmosphere, reflecting hundreds of years of Christian worship, and a lively ongoing community of faith.
St Birinus first brought Christianity to these Chiltern Hills of South Oxfordshire in the 7th century, converting the chieftain, Caeca, of the local settlement, or ‘Den’ – hence the name Checkendon. It may be that the very first church was a small wattle and daub structure built on the site of a local pagan shrine. In the 12th century, influenced by the monks of Bec, the present nave, chancel and semicircular apse were erected with a wooden tower over the chancel.
Medieval to Victorian
From then on every century has had its own influence on the building – all for the glory of God and to inspire the local people. The building we see today has windows, font, tower and porch added in the 15th century. The Victorians, in their turn and with great enthusiasm, unleashed their own restoration work which stripped the rendering from the outside, raised the floor levels of the chancel and apse, and completely refurnished the interior with new pews, pulpit and pipe organ.
The Victorians revealed the fine and rare 14th century apse wall paintings of Christ in Glory, Peter, Paul and the apostles which they heavily restored. They stripped the plaster from the chancel walls, leaving only a small patch untouched in an area which would be hidden behind the organ.
The 20th century brought its own influences. Newer understanding of materials and a different attitude towards history brought an ‘unrestoration’ of the apse wall paintings to try to get closer to the originals. A new altar and choir stalls were installed using local wood. Most significantly, the nave roof was completely renewed in the 1950’s with the bosses hand-carved by local people under the guidance of Eric Kennington, churchwarden and renowned war artist and sculptor. Three modern windows were installed – one of them a fine etched window by Lawrence Whistler as a tribute to Kennington.
Chancel Wall Painting
Removing the organ in order to repair the wet-rot damaged wooden floor revealed traces of medieval paint on the chancel wall. Further investigation and skilful conservation work has now uncovered all that remains of high quality paintings dating from 1330. Their relatively fine condition is due partly to the fact that they have been untouched since brush touched wall and they were plastered over during the reforming zeal of around 1500. They have aroused national interest and been described as ‘extremely rare and significant’ whose ‘high quality is exceptional’, the ‘most important find of its type in 20 years’ according to experts from the Courtauld Institute.
The bell tower has a peal of eight bells. The original peal of 6 bells was installed in 1765, as indicated by the inscription on some of the heavy back six. These were re-hung in 1879 when the metal frame with shell bearings was installed. They were re-hung again in 1967 when the peal was augmented to 8 bells. At the same time the shell bearings were replaced with sealed lubricant bearings.
Today’s Church Council is working with conservators, architect, experts and advisers from a variety of institutions to undertake essential restoration and redecoration work to ensure the survival of this beautiful building. The pipe organ has been resited and rebuilt in the nave so that the chancel wall painting can remain on view. The church clock (made by Tucker in 1853) has been overhauled. In 2011-12, the nave and chancel roofs were completely renewed and a new water management scheme implemented. In 2014-15 essential conservation work on the Kennington Sculpture and Moon memorials was completed, and the external ferramenta restored.
Our costs are substantial. If you wish to leave a legacy or make a donation towards these ongoing works, please contact the Rector in confidence so that this ancient church may remain a source of inspiration, prayer and ministry for future generations as well as today’s.
Church Contact Details:
Contact: Revd Canon Kevin Davies
Church Address: Main St, Checkendon, Oxfordshire RG8 0SR, UK
The Rectory Address: The Rectory, Checkendon, RG8 OSR
Tel: 01491 680252 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Checkendon Contacts and Links
You will find the individual contacts for the churches at this link.