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From tree to altar at St Mary's, Witney

It was with great sadness that the beautiful Cedar of Lebanon tree in St Mary’s churchyard, Witney, was felled. The tree had stood there for almost half of this church’s history, but a feat of skill, imagination and a desire to retain a part of the tree means it has now moved inside the church.

Specialist designers took the wood of the tree and carved it into a beautiful new altar that now takes it place in the heart of the church. The wood has been incised with the traditional five crosses on an altar, representing the Five Wounds of Christ.  This was first recorded in the consecration of the Altar at Saint Brelade’s Church (before 1035), under the patronage of Robert of Normandy, and there is a strong connection with Normandy and the reconsecration of St Mary’s church in 1243.

On the edges of the altar there are weaving shuttles, an image taken from an ancient memorial stone in the church, commemorating Thomas Major, a figure from Witney’s weaving history.  Along the central edge there are details from a Witney Blanket, a reminder of the ancient moto of the Witney Blankets ‘Weave truth with trust.’

Cedar of Lebanon wood is traditionally associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus and Patron of the church, and indeed ‘Cedar of Lebanon’ is an ancient title for Our Lady.  The branches of the cedar are a reminder that this is a space where all are welcomed in all their diversity, and whatever their beliefs.  In the bible the cedar of Lebanon is referenced over 70 times and often symbolises spiritual growth.  The Hebrew word for cedar comes from a root word meaning ‘firm’ and throughout history this wood has been associated with prayer, healing, dreams and protection.

The Revd Canon Toby Wright reflected:

“We are very grateful to Luke Hughes and his team for their phenomenal work on our Altar, which will be a sign of spiritual growth and protection for many generations to come.  We hope that as we continue with our ‘Inspiring Change’ Campaign we will lead people to discover through heritage and tradition our commitment to be a community of mercy and kindness.”

The Altar was consecrated at a special service on 10 September, to celebrate the 780th anniversary of the rededication of the new church.

Page last updated: Monday 25th September 2023 11:10 AM
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