Church of St Edward Stow on the Wold
Sheep Street
GL54 1BB
 
 
Stow-on-the-Wold’s hilltop position makes the parish church a conspicuous landmark in the surrounding countryside.  It is a very old building dating from the 12th century and contains some artistic treasures unusual for a country church.
 
There is also some mystery about its dedication.  For a long time it was thought ‘St Edward’ referred to King Edward the Confessor but now the experts believe it is St Edward the Martyr (the young Wessex king murdered at Corfe Castle and buried in Shaftesbury Abbey).  The reason for this theory is that in the 10th century the town was called Edwardstow and records show that by 1086 the town had a priest.  The Confessor was not canonised until 100 years after his death in 1066.
 
St Edward’s stands in a pretty corner of the irregular-shaped Market Square, surrounded by old houses and streets.  It is quite a large church with an imposing pinnacle tower. Much of the church was built in the 12th century but it has been rebuilt and restored at several dates, starting in the 14th century.
 
The rebuilding seems to have been in an attempt to reorientate the cruciform church; neither the south aisle nor the nave are rectangular or on the same axis as the rest of the church.
 
The Tower
The tower is 88 feet (26.8 metres) high and was completed in 1447.  It has four stages separated by string-courses, and panelled battlements, gargoyles, and crocketted pinnacles.  Heavy buttresses rise nearly to the top of the second stage.
 
The tower opens to the south aisle through an unmoulded pointed arch, with plain imposts, probably of the early 13th century.
 
The tower houses the heaviest peal of bells in Gloucestershire.  In 1511 there were ten bells but now there are eight.  Of these, six were probably first cast in the early 17th century.  Two dated 1620 are apparently by Henry Farmer of Gloucester, and three bear only the dates of recasting. All six were restored in 1883, and two more were added in 1897.
 
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The Building - Norman to Tudor
Before we enter the church it is worth taking a look at the exterior.  The west front has something of every style of architecture from Norman to Tudor. The buttresses show Norman and 13th century work.
 
The tiny north porch is enchanting.  Its two pillared recesses and fine quatrefoil window is sheltered by two ancient yew trees, their trunks (only about a yard apart), growing like pillars against the masonry, and their greenery making a bower.  The beautiful little 13th century doorway within the porch has rich mouldings, and in this north wall are two charming 13th century windows, each having a quatrefoil for tracery.  Two windows in the other aisle are also 13th century.
 
Much of the interior of the church was built in the early 13th century with 14th century additions.  Over the nave arcades are the plain 15th century windows of the clerestory, the stone corbels showing men, women, an angel and grotesques.
 
An unusually wide, unsupported round arch leads into the 14th century chancel which still has its beautiful original trussed oak roof.  Across the arch a magnificent carved rood beam with a Crucifixion built as a memorial to 145 men who lost their lives in the First World War.
 
Gaspard de Craeyer (1582-1669)
The chief glory of the church is a rare painting which once hung behind the altar but now hangs in the south aisle.  Painted by Gaspard de Craeyer of Antwerp in the 17th century, it is a great treasure for a country church.  Indeed, the artist is regarded by some as the equal of his friends Van Dyck and Rubens, and, although there is much of his work to be seen in Flanders, not even the English National Gallery has a picture by this man.
 
The painting is of the Crucifixion and shows the Roman soldier offering Christ the sponge on his spear, the mourning women, a soldier’s horse, and a host of cherubim.  It is said that when Rubens saw his friend’s painting he exclaimed “Craeyer, nobody will surpass you”.
 
There are two fonts in the church, the best being a late 16th century font in the shape of a chalice.  The wooden pews date from the 18thcentury and on the walls of the chancel are some interesting memorials. On the floor is an incised slab to Royalist Captain Francis Keyt, aged 23, killed in the Battle of Stow in 1646.
 
St Edward’s was used to secure defeated Royalist troops following the Civil War battle and may have been damaged.  It was severely neglected and in 1657 was so ruinous as to be unfit for use.  Bishop Robert Frampton promoted its restoration in the 1680s and I am happy to say it is looked after now and well worth a visit.
 
There is a photo montage of images of the church and its interior on the following link  Web: Stow-on-the Wold photos
 
Google Map - Church of St Edward