Monday, 5 November 2012

"The Church is Wondrous Small"

When I started out on this Churchpics project I assumed we would be visiting parish churches shown on OS maps with a circle or a square under the cross symbol. We would be looking out for spires (preferably) or towers. How wrong I was. Some of the most interesting churches we have visited have posessed neither of these. The smallest and some of the oldest churches in the East Midlands possess only a bellcote.

Bellcote of Little Casterton
Typanum - relocated to wall

Lifelike face carving
Of course, not all of these are the same: some have one bell, some two, like Little Casterton in the picture,  or even three. Many have architectural features out of all proportion in interest to the size of the church.

Miniature but charming angel
Cheeky chappie
Inside Little Casterton, for example,
there is fine medieval carving. The tympanum that once stood above the main entrance door has been re-positioned on an interior wall. On the nave roof is a tiny, charming angel, looking down benignly. On the wall are carved faces, oddly life-like.

Apart from Norman treasures in many bellcote churches, what is attractive as much as anything is their homely, domestic scale. Another example in Rutland is Essendine, with its Norman carved tympanum in situ. It could be just another stone-built house or village school, admittedly from the 12th Century. Its origin seems to have been as a chapel to the long-demolished Essendine castle but it exudes a deceptive ordinariness. 

Close-up of in-situ tympanum
 We have so far visited some 14 of these tiny churches. One that is particularly distinctive is St Pega's, Peakirk, once in Northamptonshire but now in the unitary district of Peterborough. It is the only church in the country dedicated to this Mercian princess, sister of Saint Guthlac of Crowland Abbey, and the village is named after her. She died in the year 719 in Rome. The belltower (known as a bell-gabled carillion) is unusual in having 3 bells.
The church possesses a number of rare features, including 11 medieval wall paintings and a highly ornate carved tympanum over the entrance door. Discoveries like these make such churches a joy to visit.

Medieval wall paintings over Norman arcades

Ornate carved tympanum
More photos of this church can be found on another church-crawler web site we like, at

We have mentioned in a previous blog the unique (in Lincolnshire) survival of a rood loft and its stairs in St Edith's, Coates by Stowe. This is another belltower church, located in a small farming hamlet. It has the remains of a former doorway in the belltower gable and a fine Commonwealth - period memorial.
Coates by Stowe

1653 memorial to Brian Cooke of Doncaster
We have had 3 and 2 bells so now, for completeness, here are a few with a single bell, from Holwell, in the Leicestershire ironstone belt, Halloughton and and Cotham (both Notts).



Window at Halloughton
Halloughton is a tiny village near Southwell and its church was closely associated with the Minster, as the commemorative window shows.

The title at the top of this blog is taken from a poetic tribute by the Rev. Albert I Trelour B.A., to St Peter's, Tickencote, which appears in the church guide. Although Tickencote has a tower rather than a bellcote, it sums up our own feelings about many of the small churches we have visited.

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