HORNCASTLE & LOUTH
A SWELTERINGLY HOT DAY IN JULY 2020
It was July, and it was really hot. For the time being, the pandemic had taken a step back. Infection and death rates were down, but the word was that a second wave would come at some point; which certainly was to be the case. For the time being though, it was a case of trying to live as normal a life as possible; whilst still being as sensible as possible.
On a beautifully warm July Saturday, we travelled in to Lincolnshire. This particular entry is just concerned with two churches; Horncastle and Louth. These are large churches with both being open to the public. I want to try and do them some sort of justice, both in terms of what I saw and what I felt whilst there! So; just two churches to report on, on this page!
The church of St Mary, Horncastle was first. Horncastle is a fairly large market town, with a population of more than 7,000, situated 17 miles to the east of Lincoln. There was a Roman town here, which was fortified, with several sections of the Roman wall which surrounded the town still standing; including one inside the town library, which was built over the top of the wall.
This was a revisit; a previous attempt on English Heritage open day in September 2018 coinciding with one of the wettest days that I had ever been out with the camera, the church was open that day, with a wedding dress festival being held as part of the open day.
The place was heaving with people; there was a lovely buzz about the place, but I couldn’t get much accomplished with regards photography in there. The north aisle was set up as a café, and I sat with a pot of tea and what may have been a slice of lemon drizzle, trying to delay going back out in to the pouring rain.
This is being typed in mid January 2021. Things are bad here in the UK. Earlier today we were told that the death toll for the previous day was the highest on record; we are in the midst of a third national lockdown. How strange it seems it seems to look back less than two and a half years and see what we used to do and where we used to go; without a seconds hesitation. We were so fortunate; and hopefully we will be in that position again soon.
This is a very beautiful church, set in the middle of a lovely town. There is a public footpath to the west of the church grounds and there were plenty of people around. The church consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles with clerestory, south porch and chancel.
The church here dates back to the early 13th century; being remodeled in the 15th century, with restoration in the mid 19th century. The west tower dates to 1200 and is a substantial structure, interesting built with a mixture of green, red and ironstone blocks, and is battlemented with a small recessed spire on top. There is a stair turret central to the south face of the tower and a church clock in the traditional colours of blue and gold faces out from the north. The church was heavily restored during the 19th century.
The clerestory runs from the nave in to the clerestory, with both battlemented. The church grounds have been cleared of graves.
The church was open to visitors each day from 10 until 4. It was lovely to find it open and lovelier still to find that it was completely empty of antique wedding dresses. There was freedom of movement within the church with the exception of the pews, which were taped off. A lady was at prayer in the chancel, with two small children with her. I have visited mosques on several occasions over the years; on open days; and have sat in on Muslim prayers. It was evident and interesting that she was a Muslim at prayer. When she had finished we chatted and the children came over to say hi. They left and I was alone for the rest of my visit.
It was bright, welcoming and peaceful inside. Standing at the west end and looking east towards the chancel, we see a tall elegant pointed chancel arch, which dates from around 1200. The sunlight was flooding in through the clerestory windows on the south side, highlighting a series of gilded angels, which can be seen on north and south walls of the nave.
These angels were part of Victorian restoration here, dating from the 1860’s. The angels have long, flowing wings that run from head to feet. They are crowned and have over sized hands. Over sized hands was sometimes used as a symbol to indicate the piety of a person. The larger the hands, the more pious, more religiously devoted the person.
There is a great deal of stained glass here, with the five light east window having two tiers of stained glass, showing ten depictions of the story Christ, from the annunciation to the resurrection. To be honest, the glass in this window is not of the greatest quality compared to some of the others.
In front of that, a Victorian reredos features Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, drinking from the cup that He had to drink from, presented to Him by an angel; His disciples asleep at His feet.
It was good to wander around, doing a little private Bible study from the windows. One caught the eye, featuring three scenes from the life of Peter following the crucifixion. In the first he worships Jesus as his fisherman’s net is filled to bursting with fish. I wonder what was going through Peter’s mind then as he continued to fight with his guilt after denying knowing Jesus three times on the night of His arrest. The second image shows Jesus blessing Peter, forgiving him after his betrayal. The third is from Acts, an angel appearing while Peter is in prison and releasing his chains.
A depiction of the parable of the Good Samaritan shows a Jew being helped by a Samaritan, traditionally enemies of the Jews, whilst a Pharisee and a Priest walk by, the latter studying scripture as he walks past. A further panel shows Mary and Joseph walking in on Jesus as a child as He taught in the temple. A delight to have been able to see this church again!
We moved on to the church of St James, Louth. Louth is a large market town, known as the capital of the Lincolnshire Wolds; the population was around 16,000 in 2009.A historic town; close by is an Anglo Saxon burial ground, dating from the 5th and 6th centuries, which has an estimated 12,000 urn burials; making it the largest in the country.
There was an Abbey here, which was founded in the 12th century. This was dissolved in 1536; falling in to ruin with nothing remaining but earthworks today.
This was also a revisit for me; having visited here twice in the space of three days, three years before whilst staying in a holiday cottage in Mablethorpe. The first visit was on a very dull day; I was looked after very well by a curate and a guide. I saw something that morning that I had never seen in any church before; a collection of crocheted churches!
The forecast suggested better lighting later in the week. It turned out to be duller than the first visit and I spent more time in a tea room, just up the road from the church, than I did at the church. I always said that I would revisit one day in decent conditions; making the return visit on this gloriously warm summer day in 2020.
This revisit couldn’t have been more different. It was really hot and there was blazing sunshine all day. It was shirt sleeve and ice cream weather. A delight to be out and about!
The church here is well known for having the tallest spire of any parish church in Great Britain. The spire itself stands 187 feet 6 inches, 87.63 metres. The cockerel on top adds another 6 feet or so to the height. To say that this church dominates the landscape is an understatement!
The church that we see today dates mainly from the 15th century, but there was a church here previous to that date. The nave and chancel were rebuilt between 1430 and 1440. The tower was started around 1440 and was completed by 1499. Work on the spire began in 1501 and was completed by 1515. If we look at the rebuilding work here as having taken roughly 70 years, it is reasonable to assume that four generations of stonemasons locally would have worked on this church; a lifetimes work for many!
While I was looking at the statistics of the tower and spire; lyrics from a song from a 1980 song by English rock band XTC came to mind. This song looks at those who died whilst building the Towers Of London. With very rudimentary health and safety in medieval times the toll on human life whilst building these magnificent buildings would have been great!
This brought to mind a wall plaque from the church of St Mary The Virgin at Keysoe in Bedfordshire. This is a memorial to William Dickins, who passed away in 1759, aged 73 years. The memorial tells that, in 1719, Dickins fell from the steeple whilst working on it. As he fell, he cried out to Jesus to save him. He survived the fall with broken bones and lived for another 40 years!
I approached the church from the south west, St James being at the end of a street lined with old cottages, several of which were shops and a pub. The tower is perpendicular and is as fine a piece of work that I have ever seen in a parish church. Flying buttresses attach themselves to the crocketed spire.
The nave and chancel are each battlemented, with pinnacles regularly spaced throughout. All through the structure stone heads look out at the visitor; a mixture of human and the grotesque.
The church here was open on my previous visit, and was still open during Covid. There was hand sanitiser on entry and restricted movement within the church. The pews were taped off and the chancel was roped off. A friendly steward came over and said that if I wanted to see anything in particular in the chancel, to ask and he would come in to the restricted area with me. A friendly and welcoming church, even in times of adversity!
As one would expect, the interior is magnificent, as with Horncastle there is an angel roof in the nave. Unlike Horncastle, the angels are not gilded; these being tastefully coloured in white and grey. These are fabulously crafted pieces of work, with delicately featured female faces with long wavy hair and hands raised in prayer. There is a great deal to be said for not gilding things at times! There is a real mixture of ages here with the north and south arcades dating from the 13th century, leading to the chancel arch which is late Victorian.
There is a great deal of stained glass here. The very fine seven light east chancel window has two tiers of stained glass panels here. The upper tier has from left to right, Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet’ two panels in which Jesus tells His disciples to have faith and believe. Central to the upper tier in the ascension; this is followed by two panels in which Peter is given the key to the Kingdom of Heaven ‘Feed my sheep’ reads the text below. Far right on the upper tier is the Transfiguration.
On the bottom left to right we have a concerned looking Peter having his feet washed by Jesus. Jesus being presented with the cup by an angel in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas leading the party that is to arrest Jesus, the crucifixion, Herod washing his hands of Jesus at His trial,. Interestingly, the next panel depicts a servant girl accusing Peter of being one of Jesus’ followers as he waited outside; a cockerel perched on a wall at the rear of the scene. This is not a scene that I have seen depicted many times. Far right is Jesus, wearing crown of thorns, awaiting the sentence to be carried out.
With regards the latter panel, this is a typical sanitised Victorian image, to fit in with the sensibilities of the time. Jesus would not be looking so serene after being scourged! He was fully God and fully Man and the Man part would have suffered greatly for us at that time!
As mentioned earlier’ it is always interesting to do one’s own private Bible study whilst wandering around, and to study the intricacies of the depiction. A three panel representation of Jesus walking on the water is superb. Jesus walks towards the boat, looking intently at Peter, who has just started to walk towards Jesus. Peter gazes back at Jesus, holds his hands out and is just starting to sink!
One three panel window is interesting and worth mentioning. The left hand panel shows Noah and his family. The flood waters have receded and the female dove flies back with an olive leaf. Noah has his hands clenched in prayer.
The central panel is Adam and Eve, after their expulsion from the Garden of Eve. They are pictured with their children Caine and Abel. The text underneath reads ‘By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’ This is from Genesis Chapter 3 verse 19, with the full verse reading ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return’.
The Message paraphrase, which I am not overly fond of sometimes, translates this rather starkly as ‘you’ll get your food the hard way, Planting and tilling and harvesting, sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk, Until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried; you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.”
The right hand panel also depicts Adam and Eve, from before the fall. Both are naked with Eve’s modesty being preserved by her long hair; Adams interestingly by a lion!
There were several people in here visiting, which was good. It was also good to see a few people outside having lunch in the church grounds, using the benches set out against the south wall of the nave. As mentioned earlier, people trying to get out whilst they could and maintain some sort of normality in challenging times. Two lovely churches, thanks to those who helped to keep them open.