Abbey Street, Eynsham, Oxfordshire OX29
Started in 1940 by Fr John Lopes as a Romanesque basilica, the church was completed in 1966-7 by the same architect in a more modern style. Fr John Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien, was parish priest here and helped build the parish hall. The church and churchyard occupy part of the site of the medieval Eynsham Abbey (a scheduled Ancient Monument).
A short-lived mission was founded in Eynsham in 1895 but it was not until 1929 that a parish was founded, from Witney. The first resident priest was the Rev. John Lopes, who deliberately chose a site close to that of the medieval abbey. Using a personal inheritance, Fr Lopes in 1939 commissioned the Oxford architect Gilbert R. S. Flavel to design a small Romanesque basilica which would be a worthy successor. Fr Lopes, a colourful character, was an Anglican convert, and his architect was also Anglican; the design bore a strong resemblance to that for the Anglican shrine at Walsingham (completed in 1931). The intention was in time to re-establish a Benedictine community here. The foundation stone was laid on 1 August 1940 by Dom Justin McCann OSB, the Master of St Benet’s Hall, Oxford. Only the apsidal east end was completed before a lack of funds and workers put a stop to construction. A temporary wooden shed was built as a nave, which remained in use until the building of the present nave.
The foundation stone for the completion of the church was laid on 8 September 1966 by the Bishop of Cresima, following the blessing of the foundations and of the almost completed presbytery. The church was officially opened and blessed on 16 December 1967 by Archbishop Dwyer. The architect was again Gilbert Flavel. He turned the church around, designing a modern nave and new east end, with the earlier apse the new west end. The church was consecrated on 8 September 1986. The parish hall, called ‘the Tolkien Room’ was built in c.1994 during the incumbency of (and with financial help from) Fr John Tolkien, son of Professor J. R. R Tolkien.
The church was built in two stages: the apsidal west end was built in 1940 as the east end of a projected Romanesque church; and the rest of the church was built in 1966-7 to provide a nave and new east end. At the same time as the attached Tolkien Room a new entrance porch was built at the southwest. The earlier apse is built of coursed rubble stone, while the later parts are of rock-faced stone with ashlar stone dressings. The whole building is under one pitched tiled roof. The plan is longitudinal with a narrow shallow sanctuary and a narrow west apse. A low boiler house with chimney is at the northwest corner.
The east elevation is blind, relieved on by a carving of St Peter’s keys. The shallow sanctuary has tall side windows, while the four nave bays each have two-light mullioned windows. The apsidal west end has three small round-arched clerestory windows to the straight sides below a string course at the level of the eaves of the apse.
The interior walls are plastered and painted white, unifying the old and new elements. The main entrance is via the 1940 part, with the large circular stone font in the apse. On the west wall is a small ceramic plaque by Adam Kossowski of the Annunciation. The west end has a ceiling of recessed square panels painted in a muted palette. The 1960s part has a timber panelled ceiling. The sanctuary floor is also of plain timber. The altar is of stone, the lectern of timber and the tabernacle stand of stone and timber (lectern and tabernacle stand were installed in the last five years.) At the northeast is a small pipe organ. The southeast chapel has a stone altar with a statue of Christ in Majesty over a tabernacle with the Pious Pelican.
Architect: Gilbert Flavel
Original Date: 1940
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed