The chancel was added to the church around 1240, replacing an earlier structure. The interior of the chancel was restored by Ewan Christian around 1870, and the organ chamber that connects to the north side was added along with the vestry in 1890.
The size of the chancel is striking – it is only a little shorter than the nave itself – and much larger than would have been necessary if the building was functioning as a simple parish church with one priest. It seems to have originally been lit by small lancet windows; by the later 13th century four large windows in the north and south walls replaced the lancets; one in the north wall have subsequently been lost. A matching window occupies almost all of the east wall. The current windows are impressively large if they are 13th century, but the lack of tracery is odd. Some sources argue that the medieval mason responsible for the work did not have the knowledge or sufficient support from the patron to execute any. Other sources contend that the tracery was cut out, for unknown reasons, during works to the chancel in 17th or 18th century. The latter is more likely.
In front of the south windows are some 14th century stained glass coats of arms, set in modern frames. The two nearest the altar with the three silver lions are the arms of the Giffard family; the others, variations on a golden lion rampant on a black background, are of the Kingston family, of Kingston Bagpuize. The links of both families to Buckland are through marriage in the 14th century to daughters of the manor.
The fine chancel roof is 15th century, and has shields depicting the arms of the priory of Edington, which had the right to appoint priests to the church and possibly also the duty of maintaining the chancel from the mid 14th century until the Reformation.
There are several interesting features in the chancel. In the south wall are three medieval stone seats (sedilia) that were for the clergy to use during services. To the east of these is a small matching niche, called a piscina. The dished stone in the bottom of it has a central drain hole – this is where the chalice used for Mass would be washed. In the piscina is set a carved alabaster depicting the three shepherds kneeling before the infant Jesus; it is Italian and possibly 17th century. In the north wall is a triangular niche dating to 1575 that contains the heart of William Holcott, who was lord of the manor at Barcote (this feature is further detailed in the Monuments section below). Holcott was an outspoken and eccentric man, who had his memorial in the south transept made 15 years before his death.
In the middle of the chancel are two tomb niches, set into the north and south walls. The one in the north wall dates to c. 1350 and was the Easter Sepulchre – a place where a crucifix and bread from the mass would be placed on Good Friday in a symbolic tomb and brought out on Easter morning, symbolising the death and resurrection of Christ. This was considered to be one of the holiest places in the church, and some medieval nobles would deliberately have their tombs made so that they could act as the sepulchre. It is likely that there is at least one burial near or under this example – we know from a will of 1505 that Lord Nicholas Latimer was buried in the church
in the place where the Lord’s Sepulchre is accustomed to be situated.
The tomb niche in the south wall is earlier, with a crowned female head at the apex of its arch. No record of the tomb’s occupant has survived, but given the quality, position, and date of the tomb it might be that of the benefactor that paid for the building of the chancel around 1240.
The oldest glass in the chancel is to be found in the wooden panel set on the south wall. These five shields are from the 14th century and are some of the largest in the Diocese of Oxford – comparable to those at Westminster Abbey. In the 17th century they were in the south and north windows of the chancel; by 1900 they had been incorporated into the then east window, from whence they were removed when the present window was installed in 1919. From east to west the shields depict:
- the arms of Giffard with a label of five points across the upper section probably indicating a son
- the original Giffard arms of three silver lions on a red background
- the original Kingston arms of a golden fork-tailed lion rampant on a black background
- the Kingston arms with red band probably indicating a son
- the Kingston arms with a red label band across the top probably indicating a son
These arms and their original location in the chancel side windows suggest that when the chancel was extended in the 14th century it was paid for by Sir John Giffard (husband of Eleanor de Lenham who had inherited Buckland manor) with his son, and by Sir John de Kingston with his two sons. The de Kingston link to Buckland is unclear, but is perhaps by marriage to a daughter of the manor.
The chancel east window was installed in 1919 and, like the south transept glass, is by Henry Holiday. It was installed in memory of Captain Francis Mourilyan Butler by his widow Josephine Lawrence Butler of Carswell Manor, an American heiress able to afford an artist of Holiday’s stature. Their son, Francis, was a pilot officer in the Second World War; after he went missing in 1940 Carswell Manor was sold to St Hugh’s Preparatory School which had been evacuated from Malvern during the war. The school remains on the site today.
The east window, an exemplary later piece by Holiday densely populated and full of symbolism, continues the theme from the south transept of the Te Deum – Christ in Majesty ruling over Heaven and Earth. The top five lights represent Heaven; Christ in the centre surrounded by angels, the Archangel Gabriel on the left and the Archangel Michael on the right. The centre lights represent Earth with a green foliated background. The bottom lights have figures representing the temporal realm; from left to right in five groups:
- a female figure for Poetry and a male for Philosophy
- a male and a female figure representing Agriculture and a seated male for Science
- crowned male and female figures representing the State and behind the a bishop representing the Church – together representing Temporal Power
- a female with a spindle representing Spinning with a male representing Carpentry and a seated female representing Art
- A female with a violin representing Music and Mathematics, a male with a manuscript and sphere representing Astronomy
In the south wall the upper lights of the windows show, from east to west, Saint Matthew with his book and pen, Saint Luke with his open book, Saint Mark with open book and pen, Saint Peter with his key, Saint John with chalice and book, Saint James with his pilgrim’s staff, Saint Andrew supporting his cross, Saint Philip with his cross and book, and Saint Bartholomew holding a flaying knife and book.
The lower lights of the south windows depict stories from the Old Testament and from the life of Christ, from east to west: The Good Samaritan, the raising of Jarius’s daughter from the dead, Christ the Good Shepherd, Suffer Little Children, Christ with his disciples Peter and Andrew in a boat i.e. “Fishers of Men”, “Hast thou not known me, Philip”, “Behold an Israelite in whom is no guile”, and in the westernmost window the Apostles casting lots, the risen Christ appearing to Thomas, and Saint Jude the Servant of Christ.
These south windows all are 19th century (somewhere between c.1866 and 1880) but there is no record of their maker.
In the north wall of the chancel the only stained glass window was installed as a memorial to the Second World War and in particular Hugh and George Newhouse, the two sons of the Robert Newhouse who was vicar of the parish between 1910 and 1933. In the upper lights is the English Saint, Edward the Confessor (with his crown and baton), Saint Hugh Bishop of Lincoln (with the a shield depicting his coat of arms and his symbols of a swan and three flowers) and Saint Francis of Assisi (with his symbol of three birds). In the lower lights are the crests of the Royal Air Force and the Newhouse family, and an image of Buckland Vicarage.
The triangular niche in the north wall of the chancel is not a monument in the traditional sense but it is the burial location of the heart of William Holcott (d. 1575), marked by the locked wooden door in the wall. Heart burials were not unheard of in medieval Europe with notable examples including Henry I of England, Eleanor of Castille and Robert the Bruce. However, it is an unusual monument to find in a parish church. These burials usually occurred either when the person wished to have their heart buried in the Holy Land or when they felt a close connection to multiple locations and wished to be buried in them all. In the case of William Holcott, the decision seems to have been driven by practicalities. He wanted to be buried alongside his ancestors in Buckland but arranged that, if he were to die away from the village, only his heart would be brought home. This decision was probably driven by the expense of preserving and transporting his body back to Buckland for burial.
A large tablet mounted high on the north wall of the chancel commemorates Joseph Berington a priest from Staffordshire and chaplain to Sir John Courtenay Throckmorton. Berrington was the co-founder of the first Catholic Committee in 1782 alongside Charles Butler and also formed the Cisalpine Club with the aim of portraying British Catholics as loyal to their country. The lengthy epitaph speaks fondly of his academic achievements, good works, ‘warm and steady’ friendships and willingness to form connections with those from other denominations. The esteem in which this indicates he was held goes some way towards explaining the presence of a memorial to a Catholic priest in an Anglican church.
There are also two large recesses – one in the north wall which dates to the fourteenth century and one in the south wall. Whilst they have some beautiful, detailed carving neither has any identifying information either in the form of inscriptions or heraldry. The recess in the north wall almost certainly served as the Easter sepulchre and a number of burials are probably located near it. The chancel was considered one of the most desirable burial locations in a medieval church and near an altar or the Easter sepulchre even more so. As a result burial in those areas was usually reserved for the clergy, patrons of the church or wealthy local landowners.