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Church Post Code PE12 0BU

Open to visitors

Visited May 2023

It was a gloriously sunny day in May 2023, and a return visit to see the church of St Mary Magdalene, Gedney; my favourite church in Lincolnshire and the first time that I had been back there since 2016  . Just two churches visited on the day, moving from here to Holbeach where lunch was taken’ enjoying the sun on my back without having to work in it.

I have paid a few visits here over the years; walking the back road to neighbouring Fleet in sweltering heat, the tower of St Mary off to the east across the freshly ploughed field and in mid winter; huddled against the cold with the odd snow flurry coming down. Whatever the season, whatever the lighting, this is a magnificent structure.

Gedney can be found some two miles to the east of Holbeach and two miles north west of Long Sutton. Spalding is around 11 miles away to the west and the Lincolnshire coast is a little closer away to the east.


This is an area of magnificent churches, indicative of the wealth if the area in the past, with the church of St Mary Magdalene being particularly impressive; known as the ‘Cathedral of the Fens’

There was no church or priest mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey but a hospital was founded here at an unknown date, dedicated to St Thomas Martyr and run by the monks at Creake Abbey. This was dissolved in 1339 and no trace remains of this today.

The church stands by the side of the main road which runs through the village; on Churchgate which leads to Church End, with the tower dominating the flat fenland countryside.

The church of St Mary Magdalene consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south chapels, south porch, north vestry and chancel. The church that we see today dates back to the 13th century, with the lower parts of the tower being the oldest surviving part of the present structure. The upper stage of the tower is built in perpendicular style and dates from the 15th century, with two tall ogee headed windows on that stage being particularly elegant.

It was originally planned that there would be a spire on top of the 86 feet high tower but this never happened. Instead there is a small pyramidal spire; with the one that we see today being a 20th century replacement after the original was struck by lightning.


Several very weathered grotesques look out over the church grounds from the top of the tower. The church clock in the traditional colours of blue and gold is set to the north and south faces.

There are six bells in the ring here today. When Thomas North published his study of the church bells In Lincolnshire in 1882, there were five bells here, with all five being cast by Thomas Osborne of Downham Market in 1794. The first has the Latin inscription ‘INTACTUM SILEO PERCUTE DULCE CANO’ which translates as ‘Untouched I am silent pluck me and I sing sweetly’. The third of the ring is inscribed ‘Our voices shall in concert sing in honour both to God and King’ The fifth has on it the name of the Reverend of the day Thomas Willson. Bells number two and four simply have the founders name and date. The additional bell added since North’s study, was cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1913, at which point the other five bells were retuned.


The two storey south porch dates back to the 14th century, and has three empty image niches, which would have held statues prior to the reformation. This leads through to the main south door, which has carved in to the wood ‘PAX CHRISTI SIT HUIC DOMUI ET OMNIBUS HABITANTIBUS IN EA HID REQUIES NOSTRA’ which translates as ‘The peace of Christ be on this house and all dwelling in it. Here is our rest’.

A clear shot of the church from the south is difficult due to the trees; but moving around to the north, the clerestory dates to the 15th century and is very fine; with 12 three light windows to north and south, with each window accompanied by a pinnacle, making for an impressive exterior and an interior that is bright and welcoming!

The church was open to visitors with a working party of locals chatting together after a morning of cleaning the church. I feigned sorrow at having missed out on helping them with the cleaning; and received a warm and friendly welcome which I appreciated very much.


The visitor will immediately be taken by the sheer internal size of the church here; as mentioned earlier, indicative of the wealth that was here in the past. There are six bay arcades to the north and south, each dating from the 14th century. These have octagonal piers and capitals.

Looking at the west wall there are two outlines of previous roof lines, indicating that the roof level has been raised twice. A selection of carved heads look out across the nave from the arcades, including one grotesque figure with tongue out in gesture of insult and a human figure with receding hairline and sightless eyes. There are more substantial carvings on the walls of the naves themselves, which includes a choirboy with music sheet in song whilst looking upwards. We also can see a human figure with one hand raised in blessing who could be wearing a Bishop’s hat! Also, there is a soldier, holding what remains of his sword and small shield.

Nave is separated from chancel by an oak screen, on top of which is a large, ornate cross, which is simply the cross without Jesus Mary and John. A red carpet runs the length of the nave, under the chancel altar, and up to the high altar. There are modern chairs in the nave, which I am sure will be looked down upon by those who seem to think that sitting in an uncomfortable wooden Victorian pew is a necessary form of penance on service days. There are no chairs in the north aisle and the few chairs in the south aisle were tilted towards the chancel altar.


Moving in to the chancel, the altar cloth was green which marks ‘Ordinary Time’ in the church calendar, the time from Pentecost to the start of advent. The five light east window is of clear glass, but there are several modern roundels high up. An elaborate triple sedilia, the seating for the priests during the Mass, is in its traditional position against the south wall of the chancel. Further to the east is the piscina, in which the holy vessels used in the Mass are washed.

The reredos is modern and contains four scenes concerning Jesus. From left to right we see the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary; telling her that she will give birth to Jesus. We then have the nativity followed by the scene of Easter morning where the risen Christ, strangely shown without wounds, appears to Mary Magdalene. Finally we have the ascension. Across the top we have shields on which are symbols of Christ’s passion; Spear & Hyssop stick, scourge & pliers, crown of thorns & nails and Jesus’ tunic. Lower down, separating the four panels, we have angels also holding shields.

It is always interesting to look at how things might have been before the reformation; when things deemed as idolatrous would have been destroyed. Stripping the worship of God back to basics! In all probability there would have been stained glass in the east window and the two empty image niches to either side of the altar would have help statues. Above these empty niches we see the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments. A tiny piece of medieval stained glass in a window on the south wall of the chancel depicts the crucifixion.


The north aisle has no chairs, and the Lady Chapel at the east end is set aside for private prayer. The east window is of great interest and consists of a large amount of reset medieval stained glass fragments, which at one point pre reformation would have been a Tree of Jesse window, which would have been a representation of the genealogy of Jesus, from Jesse to the Virgin Mary. The name is taken from Isaiah Chapter 11 verse 1, in which Jesus is referred to as a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse, who was the father of David.

The south aisle, which was partially rebuilt using old materials in 1890, has a wall monument to Adlard Welby and his wife Cassandra. They face each other, each dressed in black, with Elizabethan ruffs, across a prayer desk with hands raised in prayer. He died in 1570 and she died in 1590. The script below Adlard’s figure tells us that all of their five children were alive at the time of his death, which to be fair was unusual in those days. The script below Cassandra notes that the monument was completed in 1605. Adlard, who was High Sherriff of Lincolnshire married twice and had a further six children with his first wife Ellen Hall.

At the east end of the south chapel, which is dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury, perhaps named after the hospital in the village that had the same dedication, is a 15th century altar tomb, on top of which is a badly mutilated effigy of a knight. Close by is a memorial brass of a lady at prayer with a dog at her feet looking up at her, the dog was used as a symbol of loyalty.. This is thought to date from the late 14th century.

The font has a date carved on it of 1664; but this is not the date of the font itself, more likely this date refers to some period of restoration.


The church grounds are of interest, although there is nothing that has its own Grade II Listing; with most of the gravestones of note to be found to the south east. One in particular is worth looking at in a little detail.

This depicts what I am assuming is the deceased and death in the form of a skeleton, facing each other over a plinth, upon which is a carving of a skull. Death, and in particular sudden death, was sometimes depicted by a skeleton throwing a dart. Over in Rutland, at Teigh, there is a carving of a skeleton, peering from around a curtain, dart in hand, about to strike suddenly at a woman who looks as if she is about to go to bed, holding a cross and anchor, two symbols of the Christian faith.

Here though the deceased appears to be fighting back, appearing to be aiming a weapon at death! Good luck with that; there is only going to be one winner in that battle!  The deceased is standing on a human skull; symbolic of death being beaten; trodden underfoot. I would estimate that this gravestone dates from the late 1600’s and, only guesswork, but perhaps we could have the memorial of someone who might have been killed in battle.

Elsewhere, we have a gravestone sunken in to the ground, with a carving of a human skull and hourglass; each a symbol of the mortality of Man and a message to those looking on that they too will go the way of the deceased. On another gravestone the hourglass is winged ‘tempus fugit’ time flies!

Three angels appear on another stone; with angels being an often used to symbolise the safe escorting of the soul to Heaven. These angels are flanked by two further playing trumpets. The trumpet was used to symbolise the resurrection; and this could be viewed as a testament as to the faith of the deceased.


It was good to be back here again; an outstanding church which can be found in an area of very fine churches! Well worth taking a look at if you are in this part of South Holland. The church here is normally open to visitors and those exploring this area are likely to find the churches nearby at Holbeach and Long Sutton open as well. I headed west to Holbeach, in search of lunch and my second church of the day.

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