This church has stood here for nearly 800 years. It was built mostly between 1200 and 1250, and in 1273 was consecrated and dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury. Thomas Becket was one of the most popular saints of the middle ages. He was Chancellor to Henry II, and a friend and companion of the King in many secular pursuits. But when the King appointed Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, thinking that he would have the powerful Church in his pocket, he underestimated the power of God.
Becket experienced a kind of ‘conversion’ which convinced him that from now on his duty was to God, rather than his former friend. He adopted a lifestyle of prayer and austerity. He stood up for the rights of the Church and soon found himself in opposition to the King. The King’s well-known outburst, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” led to the Archbishop’s murder at the hand of some of the King’s knights, within the very walls of Canterbury Cathedral.
His murder on 29th December, 1170, sent a tremor through the Christian world. Becket was immediately acclaimed a martyr for the faith. The King was forced to make a public and humiliating act of penance, Becket was canonised within 3 years, and his shrine at Canterbury became the most popular pilgrim centre in Britain. Chaucer’s Canterbury Talesbears witness to its continuing popularity over 200 years later.
Our little church in Elsfield also represents part of the martyr’s continuing appeal. It continues to bear witness that the claims of God are above those of any earthly power or ruler.
On visiting the church, we invite you to use it as a place of peace and prayer. You may like to look at the mosaic behind the altar. It was made in 1860 by Salviati, who also made the reredos behind the high altar in Westminster Abbey. It depicts the Last Supper, in the image made familiar by Leonardo da Vinci.
The stained glass in the East window is a visual commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, depicting four central moments of the Jesus story: his birth, his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.
The Collect for the Feast of St Thomas Becket (29 December)
who gave grace to your servant Thomas Becket
to put aside all earthly fear
and be faithful even to death:
grant that we, disregarding worldly esteem,
may fight all wrong,
uphold your rule,
and serve you to our life’s end;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
We hope you will also take time to visit the grave of John Buchan, 1st Lord Tweedsmuir (1875-1940), who bought the Manor of Elsfield in 1920, and formed a deep attachment to the village and the church. As well as being the writer of thrilling adventure stories (Prester John, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle) Buchan was also a serious historian and biographer (Julius Caesar, Montrose), and a statesman: he was Governor-General of Canada from 1935 until his death. When he died in 1940, there was a spontaneous upsurge of public grief, and tributes flowed from people of all countries and conditions.
The John Buchan Society, which exists to promote a wider understanding and appreciation of the life and works of John Buchan, can be contacted through the Secretary, Kenneth Hillier, Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne, Derbyshire DE73 1BX; telephone: 01332 865315;
Today Elsfield is a tiny village community, with a population numbering fewer than 100. We have no village shop, school, pub or meeting place. But thanks to a lot of hard work in the village and grants from various trusts we have been able to restore and transform the church making it not just a place of worship, but a living centre for the community.
We hold one service a month, on the 4th Sunday of the month, alternating between Morning Prayer at 10.00 a.m. (odd-numbered months) and Evensong at 6.00 p.m. (even-numbered months). Services are usually taken from the Book of Common Prayer, and all are welcome to come and join us. Holy Communion is celebrated at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun.
For more information please contact the Churchwarden, James Plunket, tel 01865 358170.