Oxborough St John Oxburgh Hall Chapel
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St John, Oxborough
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This church gets a lot of visitors for
several reasons, one of which is what happened here one
autumn afternoon in 1948. While the children were out
playing in the school yard across the street, the great
tower and spire of St John tottered, crumbled, and came
crashing down into the church below. It must have been
absolutely spectacular. Just imagine being six years old
and watching that happen! I would have wet myself with
fright. Still, it would have made a good story to bore
any future grandchildren with. I wonder how many times I
would end up telling it?
The Bedingfields lived at the Hall - in fact, they still do, though not the ones buried here, obviously. They were a major recusant family, but a certain amount of pragmatism ensured their survival despite their retention of the Old Faith. For example, they chose to be buried here in the parish church even after the Anglicans took it over, and the memorial to the two Henry Bedingfields had to wait half a century to proclaim their Stuart sympathies. The chapel is a curious place, quite unlike a church. It is rather like being in a state room in a fabulous palace.
To enter the church itself you will need to go back outside, and in through the west door. The church is lovely inside, with a Festival of Britain crispness to the way it was restored. The memorials they rescued from the rubble are now on the south wall, and there is also a mighty fine piscina and sedilia. There is some good surviving medieval glass depicting Old Testament prophets and a king, but the medieval roodscreen is now at East Dereham. They get so many visitors here that you'd think the parish would be tempted to install a tat shop, but it is all very restrained. You can buy a pen or a bookmark, but more space has been given to the second hand bookstall at the back, which is encouraging.
I said earlier that the Bedingfields were famously recusant. Do wander in the graveyard to the north of the church before leaving. There are several fairly modern headstones that have Catholic inscriptions, a reminder of how Catholicism survived in many rural communities where the Big House was Catholic. Resistance through ritual, pragmatism, call it what you will.
Simon Knott, January 2005
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