Church of St James, South Leigh

The Church of St. James in South Leigh, Oxfordshire, mostly dates from the 15th century. It is especially notable for its beautiful 15th-century wall paintings depicting the Last Judgment, saints, and other themes.


History of the Church of St James

South Leigh Parish Church was originally built in the 12th century, but most of the church was rebuilt in the 15th century. The Norman chancel was rebuilt in a 1871-72 restoration by E. Christian.

The nave was restored by C.C. Rolfe (beginning 1871) and H.W. Moore (1887-88). The wall paintings were restored in 1872 by Burlison and Grylls.

What to See at the Church of St James

The exterior is almost entirely 15th century. It features an embattled west tower with three stages and a door, a south porch, and a north aisle that extends along the chancel to form a chapel. All the windows have hoods with human corbel head stops.

Inside, a few elements survive from the original 12th-century Norman church: a round-headed lancet in the north wall; the hogbacked lintel of a Norman doorway on the south wall; a fake tympanum decorated with a Maltese cross bordered by arcs and cones. In the chancel is a Late Norman pillar piscina.

The wonderful murals in South Leigh Church are 15th-century and heavily restored in 1872. Extending over the chancel arch is a Last Judgment or "Doom," which spills over onto the nave walls. In the center of the scene, the dead are raised from their graves by trumpeting angels.

On the left (north wall), St. Peter welcomes the redeemed into the castle-like kingdom of heaven. On the right (south wall), the damned are corraled by a thick thorn and dragged into the mouth of a beast that is propped open by the devil.

On the south wall, St. Michael weighs souls on scales with the Virgin interceding. The south wall of the chancel has a mural depicting the Virgin Mary under a canopy; the north aisle has St. Clement of Rome under a similar canopy.

The painting at the west end of the north aisle - a rather abstract depiction of the mouth of hell and the seven deadly sins - was the only one not restored.

The north arcade dividing the nave from the north aisle has three bays of high four-centered arches with slender piers. In the back of the nave is a brass memorial to William Secoll (d.1557).

The chancel is an 1871-72 rebuild by E. Christian with an east window of 1871 by O'Connor.

The east window of the north chapel has a main light with fragments of 15th-century glass, including: a head of St. James the Greater; heads of Christ and the Virgin; head of a possible Apostle; an incomplete angel; and various pieces and fragments. In the traceries are fragments of the original 15th-century design of a shield of arms hanging from a tree against a background painted with birds.

The easternmost north aisle window has 15th-century roundels with either the Yorkist sun badge or a crown, proably in situ but inside-out. The second from the east has 15th-century roundels with the sun badge, again inside-out. The west window in the tower has fragments of 15th-century glass depicting canopies and the head of an angel.

Quick Facts on the Church of St James

Site Information
Names:Church of St James · South Leigh Church
Categories:parish churches; Grade I listed buildings
Dates:late 12C; 15C; restored 19C
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:51.778424° N, 1.430277° W
Address:Church End
South Leigh, England
Lodging:View hotels near the Church of St James
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Personal visit (May 20, 2007)
  2. Nikolaus Pevsner and Jennifer Sherwood, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (Yale University Press, 2002), 769-70.

More Information

© Holly Hayes
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© Holly Hayes

Map of the Church of St James, South Leigh

Below is a location map and aerial view of the Church of St James. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.