The village church in Stanton St. John is St. John the Baptist
For eight hundred years this church has catered for, and nurtured, the spiritual needs and development of the inhabitants of Stanton St John. Just as building styles have changed over this period, so has the manner of worship and some of these changes can be traced in the fabric and furniture of the church. If, like Thomas Hearne who visited it in 1716 you are looking for monuments, then you too may consider that there is ‘nothing of antiquity’ in it, but the finest wall monuments have been erected since Hearne’s visit, and Pevsner considers that the splendid Chancel of about 1300 is one of the finest examples in the county of the transition from Early English to Decorated, and that the design of the East Window may be unique.
There has certainly been a church on this spot since the 11th century. The earliest part of the present church, the north arcade, dates from about 1200. The Chancel was built about one hundred years later and the Aisles most likely in the late 14th century, though with the exception of one window in the north-west, new windows were given to the North Aisle in the 15th century. The Tower was also built in that period, c 1450.
From late medieval times until last century little alteration seems to have been made to the structure and such restoration as it underwent appears to have been of a limited and conservative kind. Repairs to the Chancel were undertaken in 1809 and others between 1827-8. From the description given in Parker, the Church was not in a good condition in the 1840’s and the very extensive restoration took place from 1867 to 1870 under the leadership and inspiration of the Rector, the Rev. John Murray Holland.
At a cost of over £500 the Chancel was first restored, the eastern wall being rebuilt from its foundations and then at a cost almost twice as great, the body of the church was restored. For the Chancel, the architect was Buckler, the builder Wyatt and Sons, and thanks to Holland the work was carried out with scholarly care which preserved better than much contemporary restoration work of the period, the real spirit of the medieval building. Holland had hoped that after this restoration ‘no great outlay will be required for centuries’. This proved too great a hope to realise. A hot water heating system was installed in 1914, one of many attempts to keep the congregation warm, and electric light installed in 1936. But, in the 1950’s, expensive work, especially on the roofs, needed to be undertaken. In the 1970’s new flooring was laid in the North Aisle and in the Nave, the re-leading and re-setting of windows in the North Aisle and the Tower, the repair of the battlements, and the re-pointing of the Tower were undertaken. This work was carried out by two firms, Benfield and Loxley, and Symms.
The work of maintaining the fabric continues. Every few years repointing and repairs to stonework or roof are needed to keep the building weather-tight and useable.
In 1976 The Pilgrim Trust commissioned the York Glaziers to reset three windows in the Chancel containing medieval glass. The windows were removed, the glass treated by modern techniques and reset and replaced early in 1977. The work included the incorporation of a roundel of the mid-14th century in the west window on the south side. It had previously been set high up in the Tower where it could not readily be appreciated.
To mark the year 2000 AD a new engraved window was commissioned from Miss Sally Scott, and was made possible by a generous anonymous donation. The Vicar and PCC are most grateful for this gift to the church.
The imagery used in the window is Miss Scott’s interpretation of our church of St. John the Baptist in its rural setting of Stanton St. John, surrounded by many fruits and flowers.
The two panels show a “Tree of Life”, a symbol of growth and creation. Each tree holds three circles for the Trinity and contains flowers and fruits. The tree in the left panel has its roots in water and grows from The Agnus Dei of St John the Baptist. The tree on the right has its roots growing from a symbol of the past – the Mediaeval man of Stanton St. John. The panels are surrounded by a quatrefoil depicting the Dove of the Holy Spirit rising above the sun dawning on a new Millennium – AD MM.
The Left tree: Includes Oak for strength, longevity and faith in God; Holly indicating the Crown of Thorns; and Beech. The lowest circle contains a Strawberry a symbol of good works or fruits of the spirit. Its trefoil leaf symbolises the Trinity. The Primroses are the “Keys of Heaven”. The Laurel, and evergreen, represents immortality.
The right tree: Includes ears of Corn and a Vine for the Sacrament. A briar Rose with its five petals for the five joys of the Virgin Mary and five letters of her name MARIA. The white Rose symbolises the Nativity. The Apple is the fruit of temptation. The Bluebell promises “that all evil things shall depart therefrom”. The Cherry is the fruit of paradise and with its abundant fruit becomes a symbol of eternal life.
The organ at Stanton was built in the late nineteenth century by Charles Martin of 54 Pembroke Street, St Clements, Oxford. Its installation followed the trend of the time, which was to replace a band of village instrumentalists (of varied skills) with something more reliable, musical and reproducible to lead and accompany the singing of hymns. Martin’s instruments can still be found in Oxford and in many churches throughout the country. Charles Martin was recognised as a first rate provincial organ builder and his obituary in the “Oxford Journal” places him “among those who have worthily sustained the tradition of individuality and craftsmanship which distinguishes the best organ making”. The organ of Pembroke Chapel, Oxford, built by Charles Martin in 1893 survived for 100 years before it was decided that a new organ was needed. The Stanton organ has one manual and a pedal board that covers only two octaves, rather than the normal two and a half. Its bellows would have originally been pumped by hand – a much quieter option than the electric blower. An instrument designed to accompany the congregation rather than to be played on its own, it is well suited to accompanying a second instrumentalist.
HELP URGENTLY NEEDED! St John the Baptist Church will need to raise about £130,000 in the near future to repair the roof and walls. At present we are getting quotes and liaising with the architect and diocese. We hope shortly to be launching a fundraising appeal to support this awesome amount, and at present have managed to raise £40,000. We are looking for volunteers from the community to help form a committee. Please contact Rev Andrew Pritchard-Keens 01865 358340, or Sheila Pullen 01865 351210, for more information.