It’s hard to imagine in these days of one vicar for ten churches, that up until the last century St Margaret’s, Margaret Roding had its own vicar. A bronze plaque on the east wall of the Chancel commemorating the Rev Francis Burton Shepherd who was rector of St Margarets for 41 years before his death in 1902, serves as a reminder of their dedication to the community they were called to serve.
The small church of St Margaret of Antioch, accessed from a track on the A1060, stands half-hidden in a tree-embowered churchyard. Grade 1 listed, it is the smallest of the ten churches. It has a norman nave, a rebuilt late 14th century chancel and a vestry which along with the bell-cote was part of the 19th century restoration. It is devoid of a tower, porch and aisles and is very similar to hundreds of small churches which were built up and down England within a century and a half after the Norman conquest. Its size was sufficient for the congregation then and now, as the parish has never been more than a small rural population.
The church is dedicated to St Margaret who became one of the most popular saints in England in the 9th century when her life was first recorded in English. Some two hundred early churches were dedicated to her, even though her legend had been declared apocryphal by the Pope as early as 494. She was one of the saints who spoke to St. Joan of Arc, and she is included in a group of saints known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers, who are revered for their special ability to petition for people.
Like all our churches St Margarets has its own special claim to distinction and preserves one of the finest examples of a Norman doorway, a highly ornate and exceptional example of 12th century work. The door itself is ‘modern’ but the fine iron strapwork and hinges are of the 12th century and came from the earlier door. In the centre of the door is the Sanctuary Ring, also known as a Sanctuary Knocker, a fugitive from the law only had to touch the ring in order to claim the right of sanctuary. This allowed him to stay in the church, free from prosecution for a period of time, usually 40 days. The right of sanctuary was abolished by law in the early 17th century.
The interior of the church is rather dark as a result of the limited amount of light admitted by the small Norman windows and the opaque 19th century stained glass which fills all the windows except on the west wall and on either side of the nave. On the south wall is a plaque commemorating the eight men from Margaret Roding who lost their lives in WW1 and the two from WW2. It sits below a stained glass window which was inspired by James Clark’s famous painting, The Great Sacrifice, where a soldier who has died rests on the foot of Jesus – linking his own sacrificial death to free the world from an evil force with Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for the sin of mankind. The window was paid for by the grateful villagers of Margaret Roding.
During the 19th century restoration, the chancel walls were covered with paintings of saints and others. On the north wall are the four evangelists with Jesus in the centre, on the east wall the paintings are the Angel of the Annunciation and the virgin Mary. Paintings of St Margaret, St Michael and two kneeling angels, are on the south wall.
Rectors of Margaret Roding have played a significant part in the history of the community. In 1731 Rev Robert D’Oyly left his estate to ‘The Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy’ on the condition that £14 yearly be paid to the parish of Margaret Roding to maintain a school master to instruct the poor children of the parish in reading, writing and arithmetic.
It is thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of its residents, priests and architects that this building has existed for over 900 years. We pray that our ‘goodly heritage’ is handed on to the future generations and that if you visit this place you will find a real sense of God’s presence and peace to take you with on your journey.
Where to find us
St Margaret of Antioch
St Margaret’s Church is situated on the A1060 Chelmsford-Bishops Stortford road (the north side) approximately eight miles from Chelmsford. The church is hidden from the road by trees.