The History of Cholsey Church

Christians have been worshipping in Cholsey for more than a thousand years. The church was founded as an abbey church by King Ethelred the Unready in approximately 986. It is thought that the lower part of the church tower with its "long and short" cornerstones typical of Saxon buildings, dates from this time. This is all that remains of what was probably the last great Anglo-Saxon monastery to be built in England. The abbey at Cholsey is mentioned in the Domesday Book, the great survey of England commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1086.

The church was substantially rebuilt between 1150 and 1170 and usually, has retained its original cruciform shape until the present day and remained  largely unaltered on the outside. The fine crossing arches are Norman work, although they have been restored at various times in later years. The carvings on the western capitals, some of the windows and the ornamented  south nave doorway can all be admired today. In the 13th century, a  splendidly light extension to the east end of the chancel was built. The height of the tower was increased at about the same time. Over the centuries the  church building was modified to meet the needs of the day. A large window was put in the south transept in the 14th century and another large window in  the west end of the nave in the 15th century.

The importance of the abbey church is perhaps indicated by the fact that in  the 13th and 14th centuries, what is thought to have been the largest tithe  barn in Europe was erected close by the church. Sadly this was demolished in  the early 19th century.

The Victorians implemented major restorations and reordering of the church in 1847 and 1877. Four large new windows were put in the nave, with stained glass depicting the medieval monastic life of the church. Two additional lancet windows were put in the chancel, replicating the six 13th century lancet windows that were already there. A new decorative floor of different coloured machine-cut tiles was placed in the chancel and indeed the floor was raised in steps towards the holy table at the east end.

In the early 20th century a very striking stained glass portrait of Christ as the good shepherd was put in the window at the west end of the nave.

In 2003, St Mary's became linked again with the Parish of Moulsford as a joint benefice. 

For further reading on the history of the church click here.

Page last updated: Thursday 29th July 2021 10:06 PM
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