Leicestershire June 2020

Bottesford  -  St Mary  Open
Elton On The Hill - St Michael   Closed (Notts)
Redmile St Peter  - Closed
Stathern - St Guthlac  Open

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It was late June, and a gloriously sunny Saturday. This was an early trip out; with the first English lockdown having ended shortly before. Churches were still not open for services but were able to be open for private prayer.  It is always good to be back in Leicestershire; a county that I had not visited as often as I should over the years.

The first church visited was that of St Mary, Bottesford. This was a revisit, having paid a couple of visits here over the years. On each previous visit, the weather conditions were poor. I jumped at the chance of seeing this magnificent church bathed in sunshine.

It was good to find this church open. Traditionally, St Mary has a friendly and welcoming attitude to visitors. An open door and two signs greeted those entering the south porch. One of these signs proudly stated that the church was open from 10am until noon each day’ and it was interesting to see that the sign was dated a day or so after the three month lockdown ended. The second sign was a list of health and safety rules and regulations for those entering.  There was hand sanitiser on entry and only the south aisle was open at that time.

Bottesford is a large village just off the A52 between Grantham and Nottingham. We are in the extreme north of Leicestershire here with the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire county boundaries close by. The church of St Mary dates back to the early 13th century, with the chancel being the oldest part of the structure that we see today.

The south aisle, north transept and south porch date from the 14th century; the north aisle and south transept date from the 15th century.  The west tower and spire also dated from the 15th century, but these were found to be in need of repair and were completely rebuilt in 1876.

The tall square, perpendicular, pinnacled and buttressed tower has a crocketed spire. The whole thing stands over 200 feet tall, the highest in Leicestershire.

Looking at the church from the south, this is an exceptional structure! The nave has 12 clerestory windows to north and south walls, with the nave and transepts having a frieze running along the top of a repeating quatrefoil design, with shields throughout.

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The church of St Mary, Bottesford.

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Gargoyles and grotesques are everywhere, some with human features; others of mythical creatures. On the south wall of a nave, a very large grotesque of a female human figure rings a bell; up high on the tower a curious creature pulls open its mouth in medieval gesture of insult. Close by, a muzzled beast with ears eroded away to nothing gazes out to the south.  I spent a pleasant fifteen minutes or so taking these in. What a joy to see this on a beautiful day.

This used to be the parish church for Belvoir Castle, and inside there are many monuments, all out of bounds at this present time but well worth a look when things are back to something like normal.  The chancel is absolutely filled with monuments of the very highest quality, against both walls and some centrally placed. I honestly wonder how they take communion here as the route through to the communion rails is not a straightforward one.

Moving back outside, the church grounds are of great interest, with many elaborately carved slate gravestones dating back to the 18th century. One 18th century slate grave has a carving of an angel blowing a trumpet and carrying a banner. On the banner is verse 52 from I Corinthians Chapter 15 ‘In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed’.

In amongst the symbols of mortality carved on to several of the graves here, a couple of Belvoir Angel stones can be seen; finely carved angels wings unfurled across the width of the stone.

A mid 18th century stone to one Mary Darbyshire, who died in 1745 has a eulogy at the foot of the stones which concludes ‘The one thing needful that desired she, to live with Christ to all eternity’.

I stood at the north east of the church grounds, looking at the scene before me. This is a truly beautiful church, photographed on the most beautiful of mornings. After three months; it was good to be able to travel again!

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The church of St Michael and All Angels, Elton On The Hill

We briefly crossed in to Nottinghamshire, aiming for the church of St Michael and All Angels, Elton On The Hill. A pleasant little village, with the church set by the side of the main road that runs through the village. To be fair, the church here is not going to win any architectural awards, but it has a quirky charm and is set in picturesque surroundings. It was closed to visitors. A friendly lady mowing her lawn shouted hello as I entered the church grounds. For those interested, she was using a Mountfield! A good mower…

There is a basic structure of west tower, nave, chancel and north porch. The three stage tower, nave and north porch are crudely battlemented. The church is rendered, and looks a bit battered and bruised in places; and the church clock is set on the east face of the tower.  The church dates back to the 12th century, but was heavily restored during the 19th century.

The church grounds are small but interesting!  As with Bottesford, an angel blowing a trumpet, an often used symbol of the resurrection, can be seen on one grave, the angel carries a banner. On this one is written ‘arise ye dead and come to judgement’.  Close by a grieving widow is depicted mourning her husband, below the text reads ‘frail mortal thy state of probation is uncertain therefore prepare to meet thy God’

Another beautifully carved Belvoir Angel stone also reminds the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die ‘Be Ye Ready’ written across the top. I bet you are pleased that you decided to look at this page aren’t you! These church grounds were not meant to be happy places. The gravestones had a message to pass on, and this they did; and still do! It is not a cheerful message, but it is an important one!

A box tomb near the chancel dating from 1780 is entirely in Latin. Fortunately my Latin is extremely basic and I can’t translate what is on there and depress you further

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The church of St Peter, Redmile.

We moved a couple of miles to the south east, on to Redmile. The village here is probably best known for being a filming location for Auf Wiedersehen Pet, a British comedy drama series which started in the 1980’s. I was a little concerned that Gary knew this off the top of his head; but to be fair Gary is probably more concerned that I can date a gravestone to within a few years from 30 yards away without looking at the date!

The church here is built from ironstone with limestone dressing.  The oldest parts of the church are the nave and south aisle, which date back to around 1300. The west tower and chancel date from a little later that century. There was some remodelling here in the 15th century at which point the clerestory was added. There was restoration here during Victorian times and’ standing looking at the church from the south, it looked as if the stonework of the clerestory had been repointed recently.

The three stage west tower has a recessed, crocketed spire, gargoyles and grotesques surround the tower with a particularly large and impressive grotesque female figure seemingly at prayer in the south east corner catching the eye. The church clock is on the south face of the tower in blue and gold. Many church clocks have blue faces, the explanation being that it was a decree by Henry VIII that, following God's command to Moses in Exodus 39 to make Aaron the priest "garments of blue with gold bells", church clocks should be "blew with the signs upon them gilt".

The church was closed to visitors, but there was still plenty to see here, with the church grounds being of interest.

A finely carved eighteenth century gravestone in slate has a depiction of a serpent wrapped around an urn, along with an inscription from  2 Samuel  Chapter 14 verse 14 ‘What Is your life? it is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth’ My spell checker did not like the words appeareth or vanisheth!

A Belvoir Angel stone dated 1690; one of the earliest surviving examples, has the following text at the bottom ‘You readers both old and young, Your time on earth will not be long, for death will come and die you must, And like to us return to dust’.

A grave to William Henly, who died in 1699 and Christopher Henly who died in 1702 is carved in slate. It has stood for getting on for 320 years and looks as if it was carved last week. The details of the deceased are contained in a central circular frame. There are two angels to left and right at the top of the stone. The right hand one is damaged, but by accident and not through weathering.  The quality of the carving is just fabulous, with intricate detail in the feathers of the angel’s wings. A memorial for someone of means!

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The church of St Guthlac, Stathern

We travelled a few miles roughly south west and popped in to the church of St Guthlac, Stathern. This trip, as mentioned earlier, was in the early days after the first English lockdown was lifted. Churches were not able to open for worship yet, but could be open for private prayer. I am a practicing Christian, but I am also a church photographer. I do pray inside churches on occasion when out with the camera, but the intention on this trip was purely to photograph.

Would visitors be welcomed? Is it really simply those entering for private prayer and no one else? I started travelling and photographing churches as an aid to help fight depression. Times were hard and I had somewhere to go and something to do to help fight it! At times such as this my mental health needed to just regain some semblance of normality, for however long we could before the talked about second wave arrived.  I hoped that visitors would be welcomed but, to be honest, there was a slight nervousness every time I reached a church that was open.

The church here was open; hands sanitised I started looking around and a few seconds later a couple came in through the opposite porch. I said hello from a socially acceptable distance and through my mask which had made my glasses steam up.  Through the fog the couple introduced themselves as members of the church. Okay; welcomed or thrown out? It was the former; and a friendly welcome at that!

We chatted for a while, putting the world to rights and talking about what was going on around us. Not only was there no objection to me being there, I had a few points of interest pointed out to me that I might care to see before I left. The welcome was spot on, and it was appreciated so much. Thanks guys!

This is another ironstone church, looking very attractive with the sun shining down on it. It was still a glorious afternoon but the clouds were gathering and a brief unexpected shower fell whilst I was inside. The church here dates from the late 13th century, with alterations and repairs during the 17th century. The church was restored in 1867/68.

The structure consists of west tower with battlemented parapet, nave with north and south aisles, clerestory, north and south porch and chancel. A sign was up advising that the church was open for private prayer, with hand sanitiser on the door. Both porches were also open, allowing for free flow of air through the building and allowing one door for entry and one for exit.

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The pews were taped off, but apart from that there was unrestricted movement within the church.  A red carpet leads from the west end through to the chancel arch. The fine east window is of interest. There are depictions of, from left to right, St Guthlac,  St Peter, who is holding the key to the kingdom of Heaven, the Virgin Mary; who is depicted holding the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, with both shown with nimbus. The fourth panel is of St Hugh of Lincoln.

Each of the four panels has a smaller panel below, applicable to the one shown above. St Guthlac is shown at a writing desk; St Peter is shown in despair with a cockerel to one side of him. The annunciation is shown under the Virgin Mary and a swan is shown below Hugh of Lincoln. Legend states that a swan used to guard Hugh while he slept and he is often depicted holding an image of Lincoln cathedral, as he is here, whilst being accompanied by a swan.

Further glass here includes a beautiful image of the risen Christ, crucifixion wounds visible on hands and feet, restoring Peter after his betrayal on the night of Jesus’ arrest. John the Baptist baptising Jesus can be seen close by.

As one would expect, the church grounds here are filled with slate gravestones. One in particular catches the eye. An angel clings to the cross, which is crowned, with a human skull off to one side. The skull is a symbol of Man’s mortality. The rest of the scene is symbolising the victory that will be won by clinging to and holding on to your faith until your life is completed.

We headed back towards Peterborough with the clouds building and the promise of storms on this humid early summer afternoon. This was a lovely afternoon out.

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