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St John the Baptist Church - Cirencester, The Cotswolds
The Cotswolds Guide

St John the Baptist Church - Cirencester

One of the largest parish churches in England this medieval is oft referred to as the 'Cathedral of the Cotswolds'

The walls of this beautiful church in Burford have seen more than Christian services during its very colourful history. It has been used as a prison for political rebels during the seventeenth century and has witnessed a gruesome murder in its grounds!

The actual church building dates back to around 1175 and took over three hundred years to complete. Some twelfth-century artefacts are still visible today, such as a carved 'Epona Stone' which can be found high up on the south wall. Both the clock and the organ are originals from 1685 and 1883 respectively and are still working today. The preservation of these historical artefacts as well as many others on the church site makes The church of St John the Baptist well worth a visit.

In 1649 normal church services were suspended whilst the church was used as a prison! A group of radicals named The Levellers who were rebelling against Cromwell were planning to take the fight to Ireland at that time. 340 of them were taken prisoner in the church, of whom three were shot in the churchyard as they were considered to be the ringleaders and the remainder were forced to join Cromwell in Ireland. It is still possible today to see the name of one of the prisoners, Anthony Sedley, carved in the font, having etched his name there to while away some of his hours in prison.

Evidence of another dark period of time in the church’s history can be seen recorded on a smooth, black ledger stone in the south transept, one of the two parts that form the arms of a cross-shape in the church. The stone tells of The Priory Murder, a gruesome murder carried out in the grounds of the Priory.

Other and less gory features of the Church are also worth viewing! There are three separate chapels within the church: a Lady Chapel that holds memorials of members of the Sylvester family, a famous merchant family in Burford; a St Peter's Chapel, constructed from medieval screens dismantled during the Reformation and a St Thomas Chapel dedicated to Thomas Becket.

There is also a Jesse window. These are windows that outline the human lineage of Jesus in the form of a vine. This particular window was created by well-known artist C.E Kempe and was created in 1889. The East window was created in 1886 by Hardman of Birmingham and depicts miracles of healing.

There are many other interesting features in the church such as various memorials to important local families through history. The church is open for services and for interested parties regularly through the year.

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