Greensted Church, in the small village of Greensted-juxta-Ongar, near Chipping Ongar in Essex, England, is the oldest wooden church in the world, and probably the oldest wooden building in Europe still standing, albeit only in part, since few sections of its original wooden structure remain. The oak walls are often classified as remnants of a palisade church or a kind of early stave church, dated either to the mid-9th or mid-11th century.
The church lies about a mile west of Chipping Ongar town centre. Its full title is The Church of St Andrew, Greensted-juxta-Ongar. It is, however, commonly known simply as Greensted Church. Greensted is still a functioning church and holds services every week. The volume of tourist visits is light, but steady. The church was featured on a British postage stamp issued in 1972.
Greensted Church has stood for nearly 1,200 years. Archaeological evidence suggests that, before there was a permanent structure, there may well have been another church, or a holy place, on the site for much longer, possibly dating back to around the 4th century.
Construction of the first permanent church on this site is thought to have begun shortly after St Cedd began his conversion of the East Saxon people around 654. 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 sixth or early 7th century.
The church's dedication to St Andrew suggests a Celtic foundation for the original sanctuary. The body of King Edmund the Martyr of East Anglia (who was killed in 870, possibly at Hoxne) is said to have rested there in 1013, on its way to reburial at Bury St Edmunds.
The church, like many, has had work performed on it over the centuries.
Anglo-Saxon and Norman elements
The nave is mostly original, and dendrochronological research in the 1960s dated it to 845. In 1995, however, this date was revised to 1053 +10 –55 years (some time between 998 and 1063). It is made of large split oak tree trunks, which was a traditional Saxon way of building. The flint footings of the chancel wall and the pillar piscina inside the sanctuary are all that are left of any Norman work.
An interesting detail is the so-called "Leper's Squint" on the north side. This small aperture through the oak wall was formerly thought to have been a place where lepers who, not allowed inside the church with the general populace, were allowed to receive a blessing from the priest. Its position next to the original doorway has led researchers to conclude that it was a window used to see who was approaching the church.
The original chancel was small and built of timber, but the current brick-built chancel dates from this period of construction.
The distinctive white wood-panelled tower was added in the Stuart period (17th century), and is what initially draws the eye. One of the bells is inscribed "William Land made me 1618", and so many consider the tower may in fact have been built earlier. This would not be too surprising as there are a number of mediaeval wooden towers in the district.
Around this time the three dormer windows were added to the nave for the first time, and the south porch was added. A fragment of 15th–century glass can be seen in the centre of the quatrefoil window at the west end, but it was set there during the Victorian restoration. The earliest wall memorial is dedicated to Jone Wood, 1585.
Reconstruction work by the Victorians in the 19th century added some detailed brickwork to the building along with, most probably, some of the more ornate decoration to the outside. Specifically it replaced the 3 dormer windows with 6, and the porch was also reconstructed, along with other minor alterations and stone coping.
Also, near the porch, a large, flat, coped stone marks the quiet resting place of an unknown early crusader who is said to have arrived, badly wounded, at the church and died there. The fact that it was made of stone, not a local material, and was placed against the south wall, suggests he was considered as a hero.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs were granted farm tenancies in the area after they were unable to return to their Dorset homes and the record of marriage of one of them, James Brine, can be seen in the present register.
- Frewins, Clive. The Church Explorer's Handbook. Canterbury Press Ltd, 2005. ISBN 1-85311-622-X. Page 16.
- English Heritage. "Details from listed building database (117767)". Images of England.
- Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue (1982), Part 1: British Commonwealth. London: Stanley Gibbons Publications Ltd., p GB 24.
- Jennifer Westwood, Albion: a Guide to Legendary Britain, Book Club Associates (1986) ISBN 978-0881621280 (p.152)
- Early church date, British Archaeology, no 10, December 1995: News
-  CWGC Cemetery Report. Breakdown obtained from casualty record.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Greensted Church.|
- Greensted Church official website
- British Archaeology, no 10, December 1995: News
- Greensted Church on Essex Churches website
- Everything2 article: St Andrew's, Greensted-juxta-Ongar
- MSN Encarta: Anglo-Saxon Art and Architecture (Archived 2009-10-31)
- Virtual Photography: St. Andrew's Church