RAUNDS : CHURCH OF ST PETER
Church post code NN9 6JB
Closed to visitors, open by arrangement
It was a bright and sunny Saturday in May 2022, and a return trip to the church of St Peter, Raunds, Northamptonshire. This is a town that I am familiar with from many years back; seeing Raunds Town FC play in the United Counties Football League before I photographed my first church and life headed off in a different direction.
Raunds is a market town, with a population of around 9,300, which can be found some 21 miles north east of Northampton. The town is surrounded by pleasant open countryside, with the beautiful Stanwick Lakes to be found a short distance away to the south west.
There is a great deal of history to be seen here, with a Roman villa excavated in the area and an Anglo Saxon cemetery looked at by Time Team back in 2002. Raunds was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but with no mention of there being a priest here.
The church of St Peter dominates the landscape, with its octagonal broache spire rising to a height of 186 feet, this being the second highest in Northamptonshire behind Oundle. This was a revisit, and the first time that I had been inside this church to photograph. I attended an evening prayer here back in 2015 ish, on a dark and dismal autumn day; with light conditions such that the camera never came out of its bag!
It was long overdue for a revisit and this was achieved with the help of a friendly key holder; the church itself normally being closed to visitors.
The church of St Peter stands just off the main road which runs through the town. It consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.
The church here would have originally have been Norman, with rebuilding starting at around 1220. The original church was lengthened at both ends and the tower and spire added. The south arcade was begun around 1300 and the north arcade followed afterwards. The nave and chancel roofs were raised with clerestories added, with work completed by around 1450. The fine east window dates from around 1275 and was restored in 1900. The church was restored under Gilbert Scott in the 1870’s.
The west tower is of four stages, and is square and intricately carved in places; the west end particularly. The west door has moulding so elaborate that it resembles a porch! There is blind arcading throughout the tower, flanked with carvings at the second stage, on north and west sides,, one of which is worth noting. This is of a left handed violinist. This is rare because in medieval times, those who were left handed were seen as being unclean and possessed by the devil, with the devil himself often portrayed as being left handed. The fourth stage has pairs of double lancet windows at the belfry stage. A fine tower!
Entrance is through a fine two storey south porch. This is a large and elaborate church. There are five bay arcades to north and south, with an altar at the east end of each aisle. The chancel shows the hand of Scott’s restoration, with intricately carved reredos featuring a gilded Christ in majesty at the centre.
The church here is probably best known for a series of 15th century wall paintings which can be seen running along the north wall of the nave and across the chancel arch.
Starting from the west of the nave and working eastwards, we have the purging of the seven deadly sins. Lady Pride is pierced by death with his lance, and out of her pour the other six sins of anger, envy, sloth, gluttony, lechery and avarice. The sinners depicted are seen being swallowed by hell in the form of a dragon.
Next to this is a depiction of St Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, who as usual is depicted carrying the infant Jesus. A jovial looking St Christopher looks upwards towards Jesus, who points upwards.
To the east end of the north aisle is a wonderful depiction of the three living and the three dead. This is an elaborate memento mori ‘remember death’; reminding the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die, so be careful how you live your life; and be at peace with God when your time comes.
It is thought that these paintings date from around 1420, just 70 years or so after the Black Death had wiped out roughly half of Europe’s population. In days of low life expectancy, your own time could come sooner than you might think.
The story here is that three Kings in their fine clothes go out for a day’s hunting. While they are out they meet three skeletons who remind them that they will also die, urging them to repent saying "such as I was you are, and such as I am you will be’.
Over the chancel arch is the remains of a rood scene. The definition of rood is a cross or crucifix symbolizing the cross on which Jesus Christ died. Here we have the outline of a cross, along with outlines of two figures, Mary and John who stand at either side of the cross. Originally these would have been wood carvings, with a carving of Jesus on the cross, with the rest of the scene painted on as background. This latter is what we see today.
Angels fly around the cross, carrying instruments of Christ’s passion such as the scourge, spear and sponge on hyssop stick.
These paintings were uncovered during the 1870’s under Scott’s restoration. They had been covered up since the mid 16th century and would now be regarded as some of the most important wall paintings not only in Northamptonshire but in the whole of the country. There are also paintings of St Katherine and St George on the north wall but these have all but disappeared,
At the west end of the nave, under the tower arch, is a tympanum with a painted clock face, with 24 dots marking the hours. The clock itself is one handed. The clock is held aloft by two painted angels, with the donors kneeling behind the angels. Latin text asks for prayers to be said for John and Sarah Catlyn.
There is a good deal of high quality glass to be seen here. The fine east window shows depictions of various characters, all of whom are watched over by an angel; this is a mixture of characters from the Old and New Testament, alongside characters from real life. King David is alongside St Paul and Dorcas, who are alongside St Hugh of Lincoln, the latter depicted with his faithful swan. This window was made by Kempe and features his traditional signature wheatsheaf. This one also has a black tower on it, which indicates that it was made on or after 1907, the date of Charles Kempe’s death.
One modern window depicts Mary central, flanked by St Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and what looks to be St Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers, who is shown carrying a pair of sandals; this being a historical reference to the local main industry of the area
Further modern glass depicts the scene from John Chapter 21 when the risen Christ appears to seven of the disciples who were fishing unsuccessfully. Peter, with receding hairline, picks out a single small fish from his net. Soon all of their nets would be filled to bursting!
Moving back outside, there are the remains of a churchyard cross to the south of the porch. This is thought to date from the 14th to 15th centuries and has a Grade II listing in its own right. Three steps lead up to a frieze containing a repeated quatrefoil design, upon which is the remains of the shaft, which is decorated with symbols of the four evangelists.
A human skull carved in to the bottom of a gravestone passes on the same message as the wall paintings; Man is mortal and will die. At the top of this stone are two angels who are carrying a crown. The crown is an often used symbol of victory; the victory here being over death. Yes, the deceased has passed from this life, but he or she has lived a good life and will go on to eternal life in Heaven. The message implied here is: Go and do likewise!
I really enjoyed my time here, this being one of my most favourite churches visited in Northamptonshire; full of interest and history. I appreciated very much the help from the key holder to make this visit possible.
This was the second church visited on the day; in what was to turn in to a 15 church crawl of three counties. We headed off in the direction of Higham a few miles off to the south west; another that I had not seen inside before. This one was promised to be open, along with the added bonus of refreshments being served in the adjoining bede house.