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St Mary the Virgin, Great Canfield, Essex

(51°50′16″N, 0°18′44″E)
Great Canfield
TL 594 180
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Essex
now Essex
medieval London
now Chelmsford
  • Ann Hilder
  • Ron Baxter
05 October 2011, 23 October 2018

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Great Canfield is a rural village in the west of the county, 9 miles E of Bishop’s Stortford and set among arable farmland. The church is in the centre of the village, and to the S of it is a motte and bailey earthwork; the remains of Great Canfield castle. The church has a 12thc nave and chancel with plain lancets set in the N and E walls of the chancel and the N wall of the nave. Both the N and S nave doorways are Romanesque. The nave was extended westward in the 13thc and a timber bell turret added over the new gable. A S porch was added in the 15thc and a N vestry in the 19thc. The walls are of flint rubble, partly coursed and set diagonally in the C12 work and mixed with some Roman bricks; the C12 quoins are apparently of Barnack stone. The church was restored in 1872-76 by Chancellor, who was responsible for uncovering much of the Romanesque work. Romanesque sculpture is found on the 2 nave doorways and the chancel arch.


Great and Little Canfield are not distinguished in the text of the Domesday survey. A manor of 1 hide and 30 acres was held by Eadgifu in 1066 and by Aubrey de Vere from Count Alan in 1086. A second manor of 2 hides less 8 acres was held by two free men in 1066 and by William de Warenne in demesne in 1086. A third manor of half a hide and 16 acres was held by Esger in 1066 and by Richard from Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1086. A fourth, of 2 hides, was held Wulfwine in 1066 and by Aubrey de Vere in demesne in 1086. This holding might be most relevant here, as the nearby castle was held by the de Veres.

The dedication to St Saviour is recorded in 1522 and 1524, but the dedication was unknown in the 18thc. In 1876 the parish was in the diocese of Rochester, and the bishop dedicated the church to St Peter, but the discovery of a painting of the Virgin and Child with a consecration cross in the chancel, in the last century led to the assumption that she was the original dedicatee, and the church was rededicated to her before 1967.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Pevsner (1954), followed by Bettley (2007) suggests that the design of the S doorway tympanum probably means the Sun. The chancel arch capitals are almost certainly modern replacements, but the cable-decorated bases are unusual.


J. Bettley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, New Haven and London 2007, 397-98

J. Cooper, The Church Dedications and Saints’ Cults of Medieval Essex, Lancaster 2011, 119.

G. E. Eland, The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Great Canfield, Essex, 1951

English Heritage Listed Building 352670

J. Fitch (ed), Essex Churches and Chapels: A Select Guide, Donington 1997

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Essex, Harmondsworth 1954, 180-81.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 2: Central and South West (1921), 90-93.

W. Rodwell, Historic Churches - a Wasting asset, CBA Research Report 19, 1977.