St Mary the Virgin Church


Radwinter History homepage

The Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin has stood in the centre of Radwinter for some 700 years. It is built of flint and white limestone with bands of tiles of irregular length and spacing. The roofs are covered with tiles and lead.

The restoration and enlargement of the Church was undertaken by the Reverend John Frederick Watkinson Bullock (Rector from 1865-1916) on his own initiative, and largely at his own expense, Mr. Eden Nesfield was the Architect. Letters of his describing his work are still remaining and have been published by the Friends of Radwinter Church under the title “A Deuce of an Uproar”. The Chancel was rebuilt and lengthened to its present proportions; the south and north aisles were rebuilt. Quaint stone heads, of medieval age, can be seen below the five roof beams. A north vestry and a south vestry and an organ chamber were added. The church was re-consecrated by the Bishop of Rochester on Wednesday 25th May 1870.

Above and behind the high altar is the magnificent wooden Reredos of Flemish workmanship of the early sixteenth century. It was bought for Radwinter church from a saleroom in London in 1888. It contains six scenes from the life of Our Lady, with small free-standing figures against shallow carved backgrounds, with elaborate tracery. An illustrated booklet on the reredos was published by the Friends of Radwinter Church in 2003.

radwinter reredos

The magnificent early C16th Flemish reredos


radwinter figure
 The Nativity of the Virgin


reredosape adorationofthemagi
Detail from the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple. The ape symbolises unredeemed

Adoration of The Magi

birthoftheviginrederoswings visitation
Birth of The Virgin
The Visitation
holyfamily nesfield drawing for restoration
The Family with Saint Luke William Eden Nesfield's plan for the church restoration

The altarpiece of the Life of the Virgin at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Radwinter is a work of stunning quality and importance, particularly in its known history and in its relationship with the Brussels school of carving in the early sixteenth century. It contains six scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The reredos was described as early as 1909 in 'Essex in the Twentieth Century',as 'without doubt the most interesting piece of wood carving to be found in the County', whilst Dr. Julian Litten PhD, Hon D Art, FSA, the foremost funerary historian, has described the Radwinter altarpiece as of international importance.

The enthralling story of how this work of art, carved soon after Henry V11 came to the English throne, had found its way from the Low Countries, via the agency of Napoleon's soldiers, to a modest church in North West Essex, is told in the Friends of Radwinter Church Publication, The Remarkable Radwinter Reredos, available at Radwinter Church.

The Reredos Shutters

The reredos shutters, or wings, contain six more scenes from the life of the virgin in full colour. They were commissioned by the second architect of the Radwinter Church Restoration, Temple Moore and are by an unknown artist.

Clear sources have been found from black & white prints by Durer, Schongauer and others which have been coloured and harmonised to lend them to the high Gothic style. There are even some pre-Raphaelite influences into the northern renaissance originals. They are not exact copies but the figures had been inspired by a variety of sources and arranged to suit their current purpose.

The picture of Christ in the Virgin Mary’s lap, which had at first presented difficulty in identification because the conservators had been looking for a source in black and white prints, had unmistakably been borrowed from Michelangelo’s pieta, which the artist had probably sketched while on a visit to Rome.