Saturday, 26 April 2008

Greensted: The Truth

Open almost any historical book on Essex published before 1960 and you will see extensive coverage regarding St Andrew’s Church, Greensted, the oldest wooden church in Europe, attributed to be the resting place of the body of St Edmund in 1013. The building is a national treasure, its nave hewn from ancient timber, depicted on a First Class stamp (3p) in a set of Village Churches. P.H. Reaney described the church as “primitive and homely, typical of Saxon England ... upright tree-trunks, untrimmed but for the stripping off of the bark” (Reaney. p49). He includes “Greenstead Church. As it was in 1748” (illustrated here).

In the middle of the twentieth century it was thought that the church was built in 845. However, in 1995 the timber was tree-ring dated. Called dendrochronology, a sample was taken and its tree-rings compared to an existing dated sequence. A date of construction of 1060 – 1063 was established, destroying the previous story.

Simon Jenkins writes, “My prize for the best amateur guide goes to Navenby (Lincs), and for honesty to Greensted (Essex), for an insert confessing that recent tree-ring scholarship has lopped two centuries off its date” (Jenkins. p.xxxv).

“Even so it remains the oldest wooden church, indeed the oldest standing wooden building, in the country”. (Bettley / Pevsner. p436)


Greensted Church Guidebook
Bettley, James & Pevsner. The Buildings of England. Essex. (Yale University Press, 2007)
Jenkins, Simon. England’s Thousand Best Churches (Penguin, 2000)
Reaney, P.H.. Essex (Borzoi County Histories, 1928)

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