touching place

ST JAMES THE GREAT, SOUTH LEIGH, OXON

At first sight, South Leigh church does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. The Oxford architect William Orchard may have designed the late 15th c. W tower (bearing a nice 18th c. clock), which is linked by a short contemporary nave (and attached N aisle) to the chancel. Push open the door, and surprises await. A simple, tasteful, organ case by Sebastian Comper occupies the tower arch and there is a Jacobean pulpit (from which John Wesley preached his first sermon). And then there are the late 15th c. wall paintings, rediscovered by the Victorian vicar Gerard Moultrie.

Right by the S door is a magnificent St Michael weighing a soul against a demon, with Our Lady adding her prayers, in the form of Rosary beads, on the side of the soul (see page 21) and there are others, like the St Clement in the N aisle, but overwhelmingly attention will be directed towards the Doom over the chancel the arch, as was the painters’ intention. Above the arch the dead are being raised from their tombs, as angels blow to signal the Last Judgment. To the south side, a group of the damned, chained together, are led towards the jaws of Hell, while to the north side a key-bearing St Peter welcomes the saved to the Celestial Jerusalem.

Moultrie was vicar from 1869 until his death in 1885. A talented scholar, today he remains famous for his translation (1864) of the 4th c. Cherubic hymn in the Liturgy of St James of the church of the Near East. A 20th c. Anglican theologian once said A‘ great hymn should have great words; great theology; and a great tune – very few hymns have all three’, before going on to cite ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’, sung to Vaughan Williams’ Picardy, as one of the few exceptions.

Visit South Leigh and reflect upon Moultrie’s angels.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High.

Above all, pray for the persecuted Christians of the Near East.

Map reference SP394090
Simon Cotton