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STOKE DRY : CHURCH OF ST ANDREW

Church Post Code LE15 9JG

Open to visitors

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It was late September 2023, and a mini crawl in to Rutland, taking in the churches at Uppingham, the second largest town in Rutland, Stoke Dry and Luddington. A friend through my websites had come over and we met up for lunch before heading west in to Rutland, with the church of St Andrew, Stoke Dry being the second church of the afternoon.

 The village of Stoke Dry is tiny, with 14 houses and a population of 35 at the turn of the century. The village is situated very close to the Eyebrook Reservoir, most noted as being used in 1943 in practice for the dambuster raids. Uppingham is three miles or so to the north east, with Lyddington and its Grade I Listed Bede house, which started off life possibly as far back as the late 12th century, as part of a palace for the Bishops of Lincoln.

   The church of St Andrew is a curious church to look at in some respects, with a slender tower at the west end, which replaced an earlier bellcote in the late 17th century. A double decker north porch dates from the late Tudor period, and seems disproportionally large to the rest of the church. The Digby family once had ownership of Stoke Dry and that family name will pop up a few times in this write up. Everard Digby was associated with the Gunpowder Plot of 1604/05 and was hung for treason for his part in this. Local legend, disputed by many suggests that the plot to blow up in English Parliament was hatched in the upper story of this porch.

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There is a single bell hanging here, this being cast by Thomas Eayre II of Kettering in 1761. North, in his Victorian study of the church bells of Rutland suggests that there was once a wooden steeple with two bells. This differs from information elsewhere which suggests that the present tower replaced a bellcote in 1694.  This bell is inscribed THOS EAYRE DE KETTERING FECIT 1761 OMNIA FIANT AD GLORIAM DEI LAUDATE ILLUM CYMBALIS SONARIS. The Latin translates as 'Let all things be done for the glory of God Praise Him with resounding symbols'.

The church here was open to visitors, as the vast majority are in this friendly and welcoming county. On entering, the visitor experiences two things straight away; a feeling of complete silence, not that it was in any way noisy outside, and the sense of entering a building which has a rich history!

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Nave is separated from chancel with a 15th century screen. There are three bay arcades to north and south. The south arcade is older, dating from the late 12th to early 13th century, having circular piers with moulded capitals. The north arcade is later, from the 13th to 14th centuries, with quatre foil piers.

    Much of the present structure dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries. However, there are earlier features as well, including some remarkable early 12th century Romanesque carvings which run vertically down the columns supporting the chancel arch.  A figure ringing a church bell is probably the best known of these carvings, and is thought to be the earliest recorded depiction of a church bell in this country. Next to this is a figure with hands to ears and it is thought that this is a depiction of the devil fleeing from the noise of the Sanctus bell.

 Another image features a winged figure wearing a Bishops robe. Close by a male figure hold back some vines and peers out at the onlooker. Elsewhere, a cockerel seems to be holding something, possibly a book, in its claws whilst below that is a human figure also holding a book. Much of the symbolism will obviously have been lost in the mists of time, but what is definite is that these are of huge importance.

    The south aisle here dates from the early 13th century, with the north aisle added around 1300. Some 30 years later a south chapel was added. The clerestory was added in the 15th century, with the nave roof dating from the same time.

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    In the south east corner of the chancel is a monument to Kenelme Digby, MP and High Sheriff of Rutland. The monument is alabaster and sees Kenelme lying at the side of his wife Anna, each with their hands raised in prayer. With this being alabaster and a soft material, it shows signs of wear and damage, tips of fingers being missing for example. Along the side are depicted their sons and daughters, eleven in total with two male, seven female and two who are in their swaddling cloths, suggesting that they each died before they reached a year old. Most of the children depicted have their hands raised in prayer, the same as their parents, but not all of them have. Curious! At the west end of this monument, an ogee headed window looks in to the south chapel.

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An interesting wall painting to the north of the east window depicts St Andrew being crucified on a saltire cross, with a curious small figure of a woman carrying a jar, peering out from between St Andrew’s feet. On the north wall of the chancel there is a stained glass depiction of Jesus with children.

On the floor of the chancel, near the chapel door, is a memorial to Dorothy Stevens, who died in November 1637 'of virgin age awaiting a joyfull resurrection'.

There is little in the way of stained glass here, with the only other being a three light depiction of the healing of the Centurion’s servant.

    The south chapel is very interesting and contains lots of interest. There are wall paintings on the south wall of this south chapel, which were a little difficult to photograph well due to the sunlight which was streaming in through the south windows.  The most important of these paintings is probably a depiction of the martyrdom of St Edmund. Edmund was the King of East Anglia from 855 until the time of his death in 869. He fought the invading Danes in battle and on being beaten refused to renounce Christ, as a result of which he was beaten, shot with arrows then beheaded, at the orders of the bizarrely named Ivor the Boneless. The painting itself is remarkable. Edmund is tied to a tree, and he is of a far greater size than the Dames with bow and arrow who are shooting him. Edmund is crowned and appears to smile a little. He is pierced with several arrows on each side of his body, with the arrows lined up with symmetrical precision.

   What is really interesting here though is how the invading Danes are portrayed. They resemble more American Indians, with the Dane to the left of St Edmund wearing a feathered headdress.  This has caused great interest amongst people throughout the years. An interesting thought is proposed on the excellent Painted Church website. This goes along the lines of those depicted as being Pagan or generally undesirable, which the Danes certainly were, were often depicted wearing hats. An example quoted was that of Judas, who is often portrayed wearing a hat whilst the other disciples are bareheaded.  It was also generally thought at the time that the Danes had horns growing out of their heads. The depiction of the archer to the right of St Edmund could be a depiction of this.

    To the right of this painting a fabulous portrayal of St Christopher carries the infant Jesus over the river. St Christopher is the Patron Saint Of Travellers and a painting such as this would have normally have been positioned so that people could see it as they left a church, normally on the wall opposite the main door;  it is unusual to see it so far away from where it would normally be.

  There are more wall paintings high up in the nave between the clerestory windows, which date from the 16th century and represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

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    A elaborate tomb to Everard Digby who died in 1540 shows the deceased in plate armour. He lays recumbent, with his head having been removed at some point.

An alabaster slab to Jaquetta Digby, who died in 1496, wife of Everard Digby II who died in 1509. She is depicted in long flowing gown, with hands raised in prayer. Alongside here are representations of her children. Estimates of how many children there were varies; with as many as 14 suggested. One of the family history sites states ;at least’ 12, with five sons and seven daughters, one of whom had the beautiful name of Baringolda! The children are depicted alongside her.

There is a lot of graffiti on this monument; the majority just being undated initials. ‘SH’ left his initials though in 1774 and what could possibly be ‘IJ’ was there in 1723.

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Moving back outside there are some wonderful views out across the rolling Rutland countryside. There is nothing of any particular rarity in the church grounds but two gravestones have their own Grade II Listing.

This is a beautiful and historic church with much of interest for the visitor. Sadly, the church here has had its problems in recent years, with a theft of lead in 2018 and the church, at the time of typing this, is on the Heritage At Risk Register. A joy to visit, an essential visit if you are in the area.

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