Wing Priory Church, Buckinghamshire

Possibly the most impressive and most venerable church in all of Buckinghamshire, there seems to have been a place of worship here since pre-Christian times. Renovations as long ago as the 15th Century found Roman remains and Roman tiles can still be found in the ceiling of the crypt.

In the 7th Century an Abbey was built at Ascott – a village nearby – and given to the Benedictines. The church in Wing was built around this time and dedicated to St Birinus (it has since been re-dedicated to All Saints) – Birinus himself may have been responsible for the building as he was at Dorchester in Oxfordshire, not that far away. It is unclear why the church and abbey were built so far apart although it seems likely it was nothing more romantic than a cost-cutting exercise – why build an entirely new church when you had a site of religious importance just down the road.

Not much can be seen of the first church – the majority of what remains dates more solidly from the construction of 975 AD by Ælfgifu. Excavations in the 1960s show that the underground foundations of the apse do not conform to this structure and show a typical simple 7th Century church.

The earliest parts of the church are, not uncommonly, the crypt which certainly dates from the 10th Century, the outer walls are also basically from this period, but heavily updated in the 15th Century when the church was greatly expanded. A few other Saxon features have survived, such as three Saxon arched windows, almost destroyed by later insertions and some tiling in the Apse walls.

Although the shape of the nave is approximately that of 975 it was rebuilt and enlarged in the early 14th Century.

The 15th Century was the time of greatest change – the south porch was built and the tower was reconstructed. The exterior remains largely as it was then with some 19th Century tweaking … however, the interiors are mostly from the post-reformation period.

Throughout the Middle Ages Wing Manor was owned by the Crown – there is even the remains of an early motte and bailey castle nearby. Empress Matilda (or Maud), the daughter of Henry I and opponent of King Stephen in the Anarchy, gave the manor, church and priory to the Monastery at Angiers in 1130 as part of her dowry on the occasion of her marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou. The Abbey remained in charge until Henry IV decreed that no land in England could be owned by the French, and it passed then to the Priory St. Mary Praxis at St. Albans who owned the land until the Dissolution.

During renovation work in the 1980s remains were found of medieval wall paintings, most of which were lost in 1551.

The church we are left with today is one of the most perfect and beautiful of English parish churches; and the village is well positioned and attractive.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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