English Churches - Oxfordshire

Church of St James the Great, South Leigh


Some of the best Medieval wall paintings in Oxfordshire


This is a lovely church with amazing wall paintings. Set in the depths of the rural Oxfordshire countryside, it feels miles from anywhere. There is no traffic noise and all you can hear is birdsong.  It is actually just off the A40 to the south east of Witney, reached down a narrow road with passing places. South Leigh is a small scattered settlement of well cared for houses with verges full of daffodils in the spring.

South Leigh Church

It is a simple church with low square battlemented tower, long nave with battlemented side aisles and porch with a small chancel. This has a priest’s door with a carved tympanum with a cross and stylised beakheads.  From the outside it just looks like a typical country church.

South Leigh Church

South Leigh Church

The church dates from the C12th but most of it was rebuilt in the C15th. There was the usual restoration by the Victorians.

The porch has a wood beam roof, old stone benches used in the Middle Ages for communal meetings and a memorial on the wall to the dead of both world wars. The oak door into the church has carved trefoil heads.

Inside, the walls are covered with medieval wall paintings all beautifully restored 1992. If you want to see what a medieval church was like, this is the place to come.

South Leigh Church

Above the chancel arch and spreading round the sides of the nave is a Doom Painting of the Last Judgement. Round the base of the of the chancel arch beneath the Doom is a ‘William Morris’ design with birds an leaves, which is, in fact a Victorian over painting of a medieval design.

At the top of the chancel arch, the dead are wakened by trumpeting angels.

South Leigh Church

On the left St Peter welcomes the redeemed into a castle-like Kingdom of Heaven.

South Leigh Church

On the right, the damned are dragged into the mouth of hell propped open by a devil.

South Leigh Church

On the south wall St Michael, brandishing a sword, weighs souls on a scale with the Virgin interceding by dropping her rosary beads into the dead soul’s pan so that it weighted in his favour. At the bottom right, is the mouth of Hell. 

South Leigh Church

This is a C15th painting and has a wide border with leaves. Looking closely the remains of an earlier painting can be seen beneath it.

South Leigh Church

On the west end of the north wall is the remains of a painting of the Seven Deadly Sins.

South Leigh Church

A many headed monster with a figure representing one of the sins arises out of the mouth of Hell. This is the only painting that hasn’t been restored.

To the east of this is a painting of St Clement of Rome set in a pinnacled archway. He was martyred by being thrown into the sea with an anchor around his neck. Angels built him a tomb on the sea-bed.

South Leigh Church

In the chancel to the right of the east window is a painting of the Virgin Mary holding a lily, with a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, above her.

South Leigh Church

There are the remains of later inscriptions painted on the walls.

The rest of the church is pleasant, but probably not exceptional. There are carved corbels under the beams on the nave roof and brass memorials under the south window in the nave.

The rood screen is C15th but was heavily restored by the Victorians. It has a small painted crucifix at the centre with the Virgin and St John on either side and a row of candles along the top. The screen to the north is also C15th.

The pulpit is Jacobean and John Wesley preached his first sermon here in 1725. Next to it is a modern wooden lectern of St Michael holding a book.

Glass in the east window is Victorian. At the top are eight angels holding symbols of the passion. Below is Christ holding a banner proclaiming “Ecce Agnes Dei” and preaching to women, children and a Roman centurion.

At the back of the west wall is a tiny wooden door leads to the tower staircase. It is mended with clenched nails, a Saxon technique.

South Leigh Church

The church is at the far end of the village.  It is open during daylight hours and there is plenty of parking in the village hall. The post code is OX29 6US and the grid reference is SP 394090.

<<Previous page
Back to top
Next page>>


Eleanor's Pages Index


MAIN SITE MAP