St. Mary's Church

One of the most beautiful churches in a county known for its impressive spires, St. Mary’s spire is 170 feet high: the third highest spire in the diocese of Peterborough.

History

Founded by a charter of King Henry 111 in 1220 the first phase of the church building to include the tower was completed in 1251.

The next phase began in 1320 which involved the widening of the North Aisle and the replacement of the nave arcade to allow for the insertion of the Lady Chapel. Additional windows were added to the chancel and the South Aisle.

The third phase was thought to have been directed by Henry Chichele in 1423, with the clerestory with its low pitched roof and beautiful parapets. At this time, inside the church, the rood screen and choir stalls with their misericords were installed. It is interesting to note that these directly resemble those at All Souls College, Oxford which Henry Chichele founded.

The spire

At 170 feet high, St. Mary’s Church spire is one of the highest in the Diocese of Peterborough. It fell down in 1631 but was immediately rebuilt and this was thought to be the last phase of building.

The spire is octagonal and is supported at the base by flying buttresses crowned with a weathervane. Set in the four faces of the spire are three tiers of windows.

Recent renovated and restored in 2006, Simon Jenkins described this spire as:

"one of the finest in a county famed for spires" (1999, England's Best Churches)

More recently a pair of peregrine falcons have made the spire their look-out post.

The West doorway

The west doorway, which is over 750 years old, is one of the finest examples of medieval craftsmanship in the country.

The doors are covered with ironwork made into scrolls, leaves and flowers and the stone arch which frames the doors are beautifully carved to show a Tree of Jesse rising from a central shaft. This is a subject more commonly shown in glass but rarely in stone.

This porch, built between 1270 and 1280 is almost certainly the work of those masons employed in the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey, which also has double doors. The porch resembles 'a now lost transept of Westminster Abbey, which also had a double door, according to a contemporary illustration'.

Simon Jenkins states that:

  • "the west front of the tower is little short of sensational, a gallery of medieval decoration attributed to French masons from Westminster. The twin doors are framed with carvings and a Tree of Jesse rising from a central shaft. The unusual roundels in the typanum, based on illuminated manuscripts, are of New Testament scenes."

It is remarkable that they were left unscathed during the Reformation. The reason that the roundels escaped the reformation is that they were half way up the tower at the time. Only after it fell down were those that remained undamaged installed in the porch where they remain today.

The five New Testament scenes on the left depict:

  • Salutations of Mary and Elizabeth
  • The annunciation
  • The adoration of the Wise Men
  • Christ with the doctors in the Temple
  • Christ’s Baptism.

The five on the right show:

  • Shepherds of Bethlehem
  • The Crucifixion
  • The Vision of Zacharias
  • The Marys at the Tomb
  • The descent into Hell.

There is also an amusing carving of a man in the stocks playing a stringed instrument.

Inside the church

Inside the church is the Seymour Tomb and Brass, magnificent glass windows and the misericords already mentioned above.

To view these and many more treasures and to also experience the majesty of this magnificent building, please arrange a visit in advance by contacting:

  • Canon Stainer (​01933 314750)
  • ​or Church Wardens, Pam (01933 356717) or David (01933 623530).

Special Group visits are very welcome by appointment.