HECKINGTON : CHURCH OF ST ANDREW
Church Post Code NG34 9RJ
Normally Open To Visitors
It was a beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon in May 2022, and a revisit to the church of St Andrew, Heckington. I first visited this magnificent 14th century church back in my early churchcrawling days, cycling from Morton, which seems like a daunting ride these 16 years later! Those early photographs were long since consigned to the recycle bin, but this church made a big impression on me and I always wanted to go back.
I revisited during 2020 with only the south aisle open due to covid precautions. This third visit saw the church fully open to visitors. All photographs included on this page are from these latter two visits.
Heckington is one of the largest villages in Lincolnshire, with a population of 3,353 at the time of the 2011 census. It can be found alongside the busy A17, part way between Sleaford, which is off to the North West, and Swineshead to the South East.
The village is home to the only eight sailed windmill still standing in the country and the railway station in the village was opened in 1859, with the old station building housing the Heckington Station Railway and Heritage Museum.
The church here at Heckington is cruciform in structure, with west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north and south transepts, north chapel and chancel.
The church dates from 1307 but there would have been a church here previously, possibly on the same site. It is thought that the nave of the present structure was built by Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Buchan with the chancel being built by Richard De Potesgrave who served as Chaplain to both Henty II and Henry III, and who was rector here until his death in 1345. Two periods of Victorian restoration leave us with the structure that we see today.
The tower here is buttressed and pinnacled, with church clock in the traditional colours of blue and gold set to the south face. A recessed octagonal spire rises up from the tower, with three tiers of lucarne windows; rising up to an impressive 176 feet.
Just a minor point but the church bench to the south of the nave does not look away from the church, as would normally be the case but looks towards the church; allowing the visitor to admire the finery of the exterior in comfort!
There are a massive number of stone carvings here, all through the length of the nave, on the tower and the spire. A bearded figure rides a mythical beast; close by a not quite human like figure plays a pipe. A bird with large beak feeds a chick. An angry figure shows a ferocious set of teeth through a coating of white lichen. A serpent looks out with knotted tail.
A demon appears to carry off two equally demonic looking figures; a mermaid sits opposite a musician with no head, who is still playing a lyre. A woman holds a small child, hand on chin and deep in thought! A knight dressed in armour is depicted in the act of drawing his sword. A fascinating and eclectic set!
Entry is through the south porch. Christ in majesty is at the apex, a modern depiction, with hand raised in blessing and holding a globe. Below the risen Christ are angels, defaced and looking to be of greater age. Large, empty image niches are on either side of the porch, which would have held statuary pre reformation. The coats of arms of Edward II and Edward III are carved in to the porch.
It is pretty evident from looking at the exterior, that the interior of this church is impressive. It is absolutely stunning. The interior is known for its chancel, with particular emphasis on the Easter Sepulchre and triple sedilia; each of which is seen as being among the finest in the country.
Surviving Easter Sepulchres are quite rare, and this one is seen as one of the best, most intact survivals in the country. In pre Reformation days the religion of this country was Catholic. They believe that Jesus is physically present within the communion bread, the host. On Good Friday, the host was wrapped in cloth and placed in to the Easter Sepulchre, a recess cut in to the north wall of the chancel. Candles were lit around it and parishioners stood guard over it until the first mass of Easter morning, at which point it was taken out in imitation of Jesus rising from the tomb. These were absolutely hated by the reformers and the vast majority were destroyed as being idolatrous.
In this one we see Christ standing above the central recess in the sepulchre where the host would have been placed. He stands above two angels, each of which has had their heads removed by the reformers. The three Mary’s, also defaced, stand in niches to either side of the recess.
At the foot can be seen three Roman soldiers who are asleep. This is a stunning piece of work; worth making the trip over from Peterborough just to see this alone to be honest! This is defaced but how it escaped the greater wrath of the iconoclasts I am not sure.
This is history that we can reach out and touch. We can see the sepulchre in its finery, and see also the marks that the reformers made on it. We can also try to imagine the scene on a personal level, with members of the congregation gathered around, in vigil, looking after the body of Jesus, contained within the host, until the triumph of the resurrection on Easter morning.
Opposite the sepulchre, on the south wall of the chancel is what is regarded as the finest sedilia in the country. Again, as with the Easter Sepulchre, this is fantastically carved. The sedilia in a church are normally found on the south wall of the chancel, or to the south wall of the altar in a lady chapel. It is the stone seating for the clergy. In pre reformation days three members of the clergy were required for the most important masses of the year. This was their seating.
Across the top of the sedilia are a set of figures, which include Christ in majesty and the Virgin Mary central, with depiction of saints to either side. St Catherine can clearly be seen far right as we look at it, carrying the wheel which denotes the manner of her martyrdom. These figures across the top are attended to by angels. The quality of this is breath taking! Again, worth the trip from Peterborough just to see this!
Further down, one humorous carving depicts an argument between man and woman. The woman has grasped the man’s beard in one hand whilst the man has gripped the woman’s tongue. In between is a third figure, possibly a priest, who is attempting to break up the argument.
Medieval, bawdy humour; which made me think back to my A Levels, more years ago than I care to remember, attempting to translate Chaucer.
The fine east window has at its centre, Christ in majesty. The risen Christ stands, crowned as the King of Heaven, with hand raised in blessing, crucifixion wounds visible, with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove shining down on Him from above.
Two angels with vibrantly coloured wings of peacock feathers hand Christ a cross and a globe, while characters from the Bible look on and worship.
To the north wall of the chancel is the tomb of by Richard De Potesgrave, buried in the chancel that he financed; laying recumbent in priests robes, hands raised in prayer and with face very badly damaged.
Other stained glass includes a depiction of the crucifixion sees Jesus slain on the cross; angels catching the precious blood in chalices, the sky blood red behind the cross. Mary Magdalene clings to the cross, while Mary the Mother of Jesus and John occupy their normal positions. Interesting detail here as a Roman Centurion kneels in worship while a Pharisee, holding his Torah close to him looks on impassively!
Elsewhere, Christ emerges from the tomb, bathed in golden light; with one Roman soldier startled with another still asleep. Close by, Jesus breaks bread with the two disciples that He met on the road to Emmaus.
My favourite stained glass here is one that has three depictions of the night of Jesus’ arrest and trial. Jesus kneels alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, at prayer with the disciples asleep a little way away. Central is Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss, clutching a money bag.
The third panel shows Jesus arrested with hands tied. Peter, with a little artistic license I daresay, sits alongside Jesus and had just denied knowing Him for the third time. Jesus turns and looks at Peter as the cock crowed!
The south transept has an altar set up against the east wall; with another triple sedilia on the south wall, this one not nearly as ornate as that in the chancel but still indicating the importance of this church in the 14th century. The stained glass in the south window illustrates the building of this church back in the early 14th century, the plans being shown to Henry De Beaumont.
The church of St Andrew is viewed as being one of the finest parish churches in Lincolnshire, and indeed the country as a whole. It has been a joy to visit this church on three occasions and this would certainly be in my top ten churches visited. Normally open to visitors and an absolute essential visit.