LINCOLNSHIRE  AUGUST 2020 

It was mid June 2020, and it was back in to Lincolnshire, aiming to re-shoot some churches that I had visited several years before, returning this time with a better camera than I had on that previous visit.

    To be honest, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind. I started the day on a run of 35 successive closed churches, including two that were advertised as due to be open. With my churchcrawling head on, that is okay, it is good to get out and the churches will still be there at some point when the current problems have eased.  Looking at things with my spiritual head on though, I was concerned about what I was seeing.

We started off at Old Somerby, the church of St Mary Magdalene; part of the North Beltisloe Benefice, a collection of seven churches, to be found to the south east of Grantham.  There are some small villages here with the total population of the villages combined being only around 2,000!

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OLD SOMERBY, HUMBY CHAPEL, SAPPERTON, BRACEBY, HACEBY.

The church of St Mary Magdalene, Old Somerby.

First point of call was Old Somerby. The church here sits to the side of the main road through the village, an attractive church, with three stage square tower and battlemented nave. A beautiful Georgian house stands close by. A scene which will have remained unchanged for 300 odd years!  No one was about on this dull Sunday morning, but I wasn’t short of company. A large and very vocal tabby cat, with shaved patch on his back, and looking like he had lost a few fights recently, came over to say hi! If fact he said hi quite a few times whilst I was there!

The church here was closed but there was still an interesting visit. A stone coffin, for a very slender person, rested by the church. This had a cut out for the head. I suspect that this was medieval but there are Roman coffins scattered throughout the area and Ancaster, an old Roman town is just eight miles away. There are a few toppled 18th century slate graves here, finely carved. It was interesting to see the maker’s names on two of these, on view when normally they would have sunk in to ground long before now.  Wing of Folkingham was the mason for one whilst Simpkin of Bottesford carved the other.

 The porch was open and, as per the norm for Lincolnshire, there was graffiti in the porch. It was interesting to see a hexfoil design, just like most children have made at some point with a compass and pencil. This was carved in to the church walls, mainly close to doors and windows, and the medieval mindset was that evil spirits would be attracted in to the design and would be unable to escape as there is no starting and finishing point to the design! A protective mark for the people inside! I have often wondered how they could find their way in if they couldn’t find their way out but that is a discussion for another day!

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Humby Chapel. A fabulous attitude during challenging times!

And so, on to Humby chapel, a chapel of ease to Old Somerby.  This was once the private chapel to the now demolished Humby Hall. Great Humby and Little Humby are two neighbouring hamlets, with the combined population of around 85. Delightfully rural!

The chapel here was built around 1680 and was rebuilt in 1754. The font is considerably older though, dating back to the 14th century.  Apparently, there was a church on the site here prior this chapel first being built and possibly we have the font dating back to a previous building. The interior of the church was completely refitted in the 1860’s so it is more than possible that the font was brought in at that time from another church.

The chapel was open to visitors, with a sign up reading that “this chapel will remain open during daylight hours during the coronavirus pandemic.  Please come in and spend a while in quiet thought and prayer” Wonderful, thank you for whoever opens and closes this chapel up each day. If I lived close, this is somewhere where I would spend a great deal of time!

 Inside and nave flows directly in to chancel. There is no stained glass here; all is plain… and beautiful! I estimate that the church might hold 40 or so people, possibly that might be a push as well. This is one of the smallest places of worship that I have visited. Fond memories of a trip to Lincolnshire a few years ago, cycling on a bitterly cold and windy winter Sunday morning to Scott Willoughby to take communion, which was a little smaller still! The church was packed out that day and from what I can gather, the five or six services a year here are very well supported.  Small in size but big in Christian love! This one made an impression on me and it was great to be here.

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Above and below, the church of St Nicholas, Sapperton.

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It was a short distance to neighbouring Sapperton, a  tiny hamlet consisting of a church and a dozen or so buildings. This again was open to visitors. A sign hanging from the handle on the south door read "Church open. Keep calm and carry on praying”.  There is some age to St Nicholas, with parts of the church dating back as far as the 12th and 13th centuries.  This is an attractive church, even on a dull day. The 13th century tower is square, with a tiny recessed spire. The south doorway and chancel arch each date to the 13th century. A floor memorial of a lady at prayer, with long flowing gown dates to the 14th century.

At one point there was a north aisle here. This was taken down at some point, with the arches still there but bricked up. Parts of a rood screen are here, on extended loan from the redundant church at Haceby close by. A single stained glass panel depicts Christ holding a crown towards the onlooker, a deeply personal message for those who believe in Him. The crown is a symbol of victory, over death in this instance, and the victory is theirs who believe!

The font is 12th century. What tales this could tell if were able. It will have stood here through the Black Death, of the 14th century, when upwards of half of Europe was killed. It has stood through the English Civil War, through the great plague later that century, through the horrors of the Reformation through world wars and the Russian flu. The font has stood through 900 years of history and its fair share of tragic times. It has seen it all before. As the sign said, “Keep calm and carry on praying”

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The church of St Margaret, Braceby.

We moved on the short distance to Braceby, which is another very small village/hamlet with a church, and a scattering of houses. During the mid 19th century, the population was around 150 but today it is around 30. The village church is dedicated to St Margaret, and dates back to the 13th century. It was great to see the church open sign on the gate to the north of the church, and lovely to see someone coming out of the church. Pleasantries exchanged in a very English fashion, I worked my way around to the south side and took a look at the exterior.

As with Sapperton previously, this church has lost an aisle. The south aisle was taken down and bricked up at some point in history, the ghosted outlines of the arches still visible.  There is a bellcote to the west, which hold bells of considerable age and importance, nave, north aisle and chancel. The oldest of the two bells dates back to around 1200, and is thought to be the second oldest bell in Lincolnshire. The other bell dates from around 1500. According to the National Church Bell Database both are listed without makers’ names.

 Going in through the south door I noticed some pentagons carved around the frame of the door. Today, the pentagon is associated with black magic but in days long gone it was a Christian symbol used as a protection against evil.

It is also said that the pentagon was used as a symbol of Christ’s passion, with the five points of the pentagon symbolising the five wounds of Christ’s crucifixion. Fascinating to think back to when this was carved. Who carved it, and was there a specific thing that they needed protecting from in those days of fear and superstition?

 In among a few other assorted initials and dates, a cartoonish depiction of an animal appears which may be a deer or a horse, or neither! They did like their graffiti in Lincolnshire!

Walls are whitewashed and there is no stained glass, with the exception of a few medieval fragments. At one point there was medieval glass here but this was all destroyed during the reformation. What we see here today is all that was pieced back together at a later date.

The church grounds are largely free of graves. A few ancient gravestones can be seen, with some of very high quality, but it appears that there was a substantial clearance at some point in the past. It was good to be back here after a good few years, and lovely to be able to see inside.

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The church of St Barbara, Haceby (Redundant, looked after by Churches Conservation Trust)

Haceby was next and this was another re-visit. The church is just about all that is left of the village, with earthworks close by showing where the rest of the village used to be. The church of St Barbara and St Margaret dates back to the 12th century, and has been redundant since 1973. These days it is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust, and was open to visitors.

Just to look at St Barbara for a second, as there is an interesting story here. Barbara was a Christian martyr who was beheaded by her own father after she confessed to her father that she had become a Christian. After killing his daughter, he was struck by lightning and killed.

The church grounds were more overgrown than they were on my last visit four years previously.  It was dull and blustery, there were a few spots of rain in the air, but it was beautiful still. This is a favourite church of mine. There is no wow factor here, just a lovely little church, in the middle of nowhere, with much of interest to see.

Gary, who was driver for the day, has no interest in churches at all, but enjoys the drives out in to the countryside, but he is interested in graffiti, and there was plenty here to see. A survey has indicated that there are 120 different pieces of graffiti here, mostly in the porch area and around window sills.

In amongst the assorted initials of those visiting here during the 17th and 18th centuries, a very common thing in Lincolnshire, there were a couple of windmills carved in to the walls of the porch. Close by, the outline of two different types of shoes.

Unlike some churches run by the CCT, the pews are still in place and, to be honest, there could have been a service here last week!  Standing at the west end and looking west, we see a Royal coat of arms over the chancel arch. Look very carefully and you can see that this has been painted over a doom painting.  Just a few fragments of this remain. A doom painting would have had the risen Christ at the centre, with the condemned to the right of the scene as we look at it, being thrown in to hell, which is often depicted as a giant serpents mouth. To the left as we look at it those judged righteous are taken off to heaven, sometimes depicted as a safe place such as a castle.

A lovely little touch, in the chancel! There is an aumbry on the north wall, a cupboard which would hold the items used for communion.  It was closed. I opened it up and there was an (empty) bottle of communion wine, a prayer book and Bible. Just a little tiny thing, but I loved this!

A glorious little church! Another place where I could spend hours quite happily.

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Above, more from the church of St Barbara, Haceby.

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North Beltisloe: A friendly, welcoming benefice. A selection of signs from the day. Left is from Humby Chapel, the other two are from Sapperton.