Dating churches

The majority of most churches are medieval in date, but there are a few exceptions. This guide outlines some basic architectural history of churches so that you can date your own church. Churches were often added to through the years, so the nave may be the oldest element of the church. Often a chancel was added next or lengthened in the twelfth century. Towers for bells were built from the fourteenth century onwards. The fifteenth century saw the building of side aisles for larger congregations and often the nave was heightened to let in more light. Sometimes chapels and porches were added at this date too. There is often no repair or rebuild to churches until the nineteenth century. Any churches that are rebuilt in the seventeenth and eighteenth century tend to be built in the Classical style that was popular then. There was a great deal of repair to churches in the nineteenth century and it is at this period that Gothic architecture became fashionable again. This means that many windows and other parts of a church may be nineteenth century imitations of medieval architectural styles.


All Saint's Church, WingThere are few churches with remaining Saxon fabric, though many can trace their origins to the late Saxon period. Saxon churches were originally built of timber when the population started to be converted to Christianity in the seventh and eighth century AD. Only a few were built in stone at this time, such as All Saint's church, Wing. Saxon churches can often be identified by their lack of symmetry and blind rounded arch arcading on the exterior walls.


A date for medieval churches can often be suggested by the type of windows and doors it has, though be careful as windows can often be replaced in later centuries.

Romanesque door in Buckingham Chantry ChapelRomanesque

This style has rounded arch windows, doors (like this one on the left at the Old Chantry Chapel, Buckingham) and arcading. Inside the church there are often also piers that draw the eye upwards. This style dates to the Norman period, the eleventh and twelfth century AD.


Lancet windows in Long Crendon churchGothic

The Gothic style was introduced in the twelfth century. This style had pointed arches, or lancet windows, like these here at St Mary's, Long Crendon. The interiors often had horizontal 

banding to emphasise that the world was divided into levels. Gothic masonry is often very light and is sometimes supported by flying buttresses that soar away from the exterior walls of the church. There are several styles within the Gothic movement that are characterised by the style of window.

Early English

Early English lancet windows were could be grouped together to form wider and higher windows of several lights. The Early English style dates form the late twelfth to the mid thirteenth century.

Decorated windows in Upper Winchendon churchDecorated

The Decorated style became common in the later thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This style is very flamboyant and is based on trefoils and quatrefoils, like three- and four-leafed clovers, and dagger shapes. See the decorated window at St Mary Magdelene church, Upper Winchendon, on the left.

Perpendicular windows in Long Crendon churchPerpendicular

The Perpendicular style was introduced in the early fourteenth century and continues until the sixteenth. This is often characterised by flattened, but still pointed, arches and stone piers separating the window into columns. The stone piers, or mullions, usually continue to the arch instead of branching out to the sides as in the Decorated style. St Mary's, Long Crendon is to the right and St Mary's, Aylesbury below.

Perpendicular window in St Mary's church, Aylesbury


There was a pause in church repair and rebuilding in the middle of the sixteenth century, due to the uncertainties of the Reformation. The new churches of the seventeenth and eighteenth century were built in the Classical style, such as St Lawrence, West Wycombe. this had become very fashionable as architects tried to emulate the buildings of the Romans and Greeks that were starting to come to light. 

Nineteenth century copy of a medieval window in Buckingham churchNineteenth century

The nineteenth century saw the repair of many older churches, often with imitation Gothic architecture, and the rebuilding of some. Sts Peter and St Paul church at Buckingham is mostly nineteenth century in date, though it is built in a Gothic style. Later nineteenth century churches became even more elaborate. Medieval style stained glass and carved wooden objects, like pews, lecterns and so on are often introduced in the nineteenth century.


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