English Churches - Oxfordshire

St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford


A Saxon tower and the City Church


On the busy pedestrianised Cornmarket, the Saxon tower of St Michaelís church is one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. A church was built just inside the north gate of the walled city before the Norman Conquest. It was an important building and one of only three churches in Oxfordshire which held property directly. It had a wealthy congregation and the rest of the church was rebuilt several times during the Middle Ages, but little is known of its early history. The building was substantially restored by GE Street in the C19th and again after a disastrous fire in 1953. The tower was restored in 1986 and is now the easiest church tower to climb in Oxford with its wooden stairway.

St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford

St Michael at the North Gate,
                Oxford

It is also the city church, a role taken over from St Martinís Church at Carfax and then All Saintís Church on High Street. The Lord Mayor and Corporation attend Civic Services here several times a year, sitting in their designated pew. The decorative stand holds the Lord Mayorís mace.
 
St Michael at the North Gate,
                Oxford

In some ways it is quite a plain church inside with an arcade of octagonal pillars and pointed arches separating the nave and side aisles.

St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford

The organ on the north side of the chancel has most unusual horizontal pipes.

St Michael at the North Gate,
                Oxford

On either side of the pillars into the chancel are statues of St George and the Archangel Michael.

St Michael at the North Gate,
                Oxford       St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford

The south aisle chapel is the baptistry with a C14th font which was originally in St Martinís Church.

St Michael at the North Gate,
                Oxford

In the north aisle is the Lady Chapel. The beautiful reredos is late C13th although the figures were added in 1938. On the left is St Frideswide, patron saint of Oxford. In the centre is the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and on her right is St Mildred, Abbess of Minster in Kent. The three small piece of stained glass in the window above are from about 1500. In the centre is a rare depiction of Christ crucified on a Lily plant. This was a typical feature of C13th iconography in England.
 
St Michael at the North Gate,
                Oxford

St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford

There is a small charge to go up the tower. It is a very easy climb up a modern wooden stair. On the first floor is the small treasury with its display of church plate from St Martinís, All Saintsí and St Michaelís Churches.

St Michael at the North Gate,
                Oxford

The church chest dates from 1652 and has three keys which were held by different members of he congregation, elected annually. All three had to be present to unlock the chest.

 St Michael at the North
                Gate, Oxford

Higher up is the clock mechanism and the bells. 

St Michael at the North Gate,
                Oxford

From the top there are good views across Oxford.

St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford

The church is open from 10.30-5pm in the summer or 4pm in the winter months. There is a small shop. The post code is OX1 3EY and the grid reference is SP 513064.

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