Greensted Church, Chipping Ongar, Essex

Posted on 8/27/2011

Today (18/8/11) I took a mini-pilgrimage into Chipping Ongar to visit Greensted Church - the oldest wooden Church in the world, and possibly the oldest wooden building in Europe. I discovered this wonderful structure purely by accident after surfing for information about the amazing Norwegian Stave churches online.

Archaeological evidence suggests that before there was a permanent structure on the site, there may well have been a pagan holy place further back, possibly dating around the 4th century. The name Green-sted itself suggests that the Saxons who first settled there found a clearing or a place (stede) in the vast forest which Epping and Hainault forests are now the small remnants of. These Saxon settlers worshiped their pagan gods in "groves" in the forest. The East Saxons resisted attempts to convert to Xtianity by Augustine and Mellitus of Rome, but around 654, St Cedd, a Saxon trained at the Celtic monastery on Lindisfarne was finally successful and Greensted became a place of Xtian worship not long after.

The archaeological remnants of two simple wooden buildings were discovered under the present chancel floor, and these are thought to have been built in the late 6th or early 7th centuries. The nave was added in about 1060 A.D. according to the dendrochronological method of dating timber.

Danish Invasions

In the 9th century, Danish invasions became a serious threat. Their raids produced a host of Saxon martyrs, of whom King Edmund (who died in 870 at Hoxne) of East Anglia is especially remembered. There's one small painting and a stained-glass window of him there. It's also said that his body was rested in Greensted in 1013, on its way for reburial at Bury St Edmunds.

Above, one of the six Victorian dormer windows which replaced the three Tudor ones. They were created by the local carpenter James Barlow.

The oldest grave at Greensted's cemetery is believed to be the final resting place of a bowman who had been one of the 12th Century Crusaders.

This wooden cross  marks the grave of Edward Edwards, the owner of the local Inn who died in 1842 whilst using a scythe in a nearby field as part of a bet taken during a bout of heavy drinking.

For more information please visit the official Greenstead Church website here.