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St. Mary's Church, Witney

St. Mary's Church, Witney

Photo: Cycling Man, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr

A Monkey at St. Mary's Church

6 August 2021 (Updated 23 November 2021)

If you peer up the impressive 156ft spire of St. Mary's Church in Witney, you may spot a stone carving of a monkey apparently climbing the spire.

A curious local legend explains the presence of this unique church monkey.

The Legend of the Witney Monkey

The Witney Feast is a yearly fair that dates back to 1243 AD. It originally took place on the Church Green, but after it out-grew the green, it moved to the playing fields behind the church known as the Leys.

According to the legend, at around the time that the church spire was being constructed, the fair was taking place on the green outside. One of the stall-holders had brought a pet monkey to delight the children and bring in the crowds.

Whether the monkey was alarmed by the loud noises of the fair, or merely picked it's moment to make a bid for freedom is not clear, but the monkey escaped and began to climb the half-finished church spire.

A sad end and a memorial

Sadly, the climb proved too much for the monkey, and, watched by the crowds below, it fell to its death. The builders constructing the spire may have seen the poor monkey's death as a bad omen, or perhaps were merely amused by what had happened.

Whatever the reason, the builders decided to add a stone monkey to the church spire to commemorate the event, and the monkey remains there to this day.