St Oswald’s Church in Winwick, Cheshire, is an ancient church that was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and despite having extensive rebuilding in the 19th century by Pugin in the Gothic revival style, the church still retains many medieval features that date from the 13th and 14th centuries.
The church was dedicated to St Oswald; an early seventh century Northumbrian king who, according to Bede, fought against an alliance led by Cadwallon the king of Gwynedd and the Mercian king Penda. These two kings had formed an allegiance to halt the expansion of Northumbria, but Oswald had defeated Cadwallon at the battle of Heavenfield near Hexham in 632 AD. Oswald had erected a cross before the battle and, according to tradition, had won the battle with God's blessing.
However, in AD 642, Oswald entered into battle again with Penda and lost, and according to legend Oswald’s body was dismembered. The location of this battle – called the Battle of Maserfield - has been debated for centuries, the location given either as near Winwick (Makerfield) or in Oswestry, which is in Shropshire near the border of Wales, and would have been close to the kingdom of Mercia. Oswald was thereafter considered a saint, and a tale recounted by Reginald of Durham tells of a bird picking up Oswald’s dismembered arm, taking it to a tree, which gave the tree long life, and when the bird dropped the arm on the ground, a spring emerged from the earth. There is a Holy Well attributed to Oswald near Winwick, though there is also a Holy Well at Oswestry. A cult surrounding Oswald grew and was particularly promoted by king Æthelstan in the early tenth century.
Winwick Church has a number of artefacts such as the arms of a tenth century cross that reveal an image of Oswald being held upside down and dismembered by two men on one ‘cross-arm’ panel and what could be a monk carrying two pales of water from a Holy Well on the other. The church also has many medieval stonemason’s marks and carvings, including the pig that is carved on the outside of the tower. The feast day for St Oswald is the 5th of August, and the Well was traditionally cleared on this day.
The tenth century cross arms on display in the church. The cross was probably vandalised by Cromwell's army who were stationed at the church in 1648, and this section was discovered reused as a grave slab.
The side panel of the cross arm depicts Oswald upside down, being held by two Mercians. Oswald was dismembered after the battle in AD 642. This style of depiction told the story of his Martyrdom.
The other panel depicts what is interpreted as a Monk carrying two pales of water from a Holy Well.
A medieval carving of a Bishop at the bottom of a pillar in the church.
A coat of arms displaying the legend of the Eagle and Child.
A medieval stonemason's mark from the church.
Another stonemason's mark in the church - in the style of a crude square and compass.
Another stonemason's mark in the church.
A stonemason's mark on a stone that is now located in the church gateway. It has probably been removed from the church during refurbishment.
St Oswald depicted in the central section of the east window.
The Victorian hymn board.
The ceiling of Pugin's extension of the church.
Wooden carving of St Oswald.
The columns of the church.
Wooden panelled ceiling of part of the church and the top section showing some of the monuments.
St Oswald's Well, Hermitage Green, near Winwick.
View of St Oswald's Church, Winwick.
All photos taken with permission by Dr David Harrison
© Dr David Harrison 2016