Greensted Church – The Oldest Wooden Church in the World
by Ben Johnson
Situated deep in the Essex countryside lies Greensted Church, an ancient place of worship which has the distinction of being the oldest wooden church in the world. Indeed, it is also the oldest wooden building in Europe with a nave dating back to between 998 and 1063 AD.
Unfortunately the split oak tree trunks that form the nave are the only remaining parts of the original Saxon structure. There is however a small amount of flint within the Chancel wall which dates back to the Norman era (highlighted below), showing that the church was still in use after the Norman conquest of 1066.
A later addition to the church, the existing Chancel was constructed in around 1500AD. The tower was built over one hundred years later during the Stuart period.
In the 19th century the church went through a fairly substantial restoration by the Victorians. This included adding brickwork to the structure and replacing the dormer windows, along with a host of other alterations.
Inside the church only a trickle of sunlight manages to break through the tiny windows, creating a somewhat dark and gloomy ambience. Look closely however and you will see how extensive the 19th century restorations were, with ornate Victorian carvings, motifs and woodwork. In one corner of the church there is also a Norman pillar piscina, a rare survivor from this period.
Other interesting facts about Greensted Church:
• On the north-western side of the church a ‘lepers squint’ (pictured to the right) is built into the Saxon woodwork. This would have allowed lepers (who were not allowed into the church) to receive a blessing from the priest with holy water. That being said, some historians argue that this aperture was simply used as a window for the local priest to see who was approaching the church… but that’s far less interesting!
• The body of St Edmund was apparently held at Greensted Church for one night on the way to his final resting place in Bury St Edmunds.
• Directly adjacent to the church’s doorway lies the grave of a 12th century crusader (pictured below). The fact that his grave is made of solid stone suggests that he was a highly decorated soldier.
If you are planning a visit to the church then we do recommend taking a car as it is located in the Essex countryside with little or no public transport in the area.
Map of Greensted Church