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Ewelme Church, St. Mary the Virgin

The original church called All Saints and was known to have had a rector Ralph Bloet in 1221.  Today only part of the tower is from that period.  Thomas Chaucer married Matilda Berghersh the heiress of Ewelme and made Ewelme their home.  They began some restoration work, but it was after William and Alice de la Pole inherited Ewelme from her mother in 1436 that the church nave was re-built into the edifice we see today.  It is in the perpendicular style of the period and is noted for the magnificent alabaster triple decker tomb of Alice who died in 1475. Her parents’ Purbeck marble tomb is nearby, richly adorned with the coats of arms of the powerful families with whom they were connected.  Also of unusual note is the Rood screen with its iron bars, originally painted in bright colours, and the hingeless doors, still working today.  The chequer-board pattern of dark bricks on the east wall, and the brick castellation is reminiscent of the East Anglian churches, the home county of the de la Pole’s.  


The chantry chapel was not dissolved by Henry VIII at the Reformation but allowed to continue, financed with the monies from the Trust set up by William and Alice from their estates.  The church was further saved in the English Civil War by a Parliamentarian soldier who owned a large estate in Ewelme, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Martyn of Thomas Ballard’s Regiment of Foote.  Martin ejected the Royalist Rector and replaced him with a Puritan clergyman.  Through the dangerous years of Commonwealth rule, Colonel Martyn saved the church from desecration by the Roundhead soldiers and iconaclasts, by keeping it locked and only opened for Sunday services.  Otherwise, the tombs and stained glass would have been destroyed – as happened to other historic religious memorials around the country. 

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