APETHORPE : CHURCH OF ST LEONARD

Church Post Code PE8 5DL

Pre covid this church was open to visitors.

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I was discussing my hobby with a friend once, and he said that the churches themselves could be seen as a means to an end to visit lovely places; places which I would never have visited if there had not been a church there. I see what he means; without the churches I would never have spent so many pleasant hours cycling the backroads of East Northamptonshire, an area that I have grown a deep love for over the years.

Apethorpe is on one of my favourite cycling runs, a very small pleasant village, over to the far west of the catchment area of this site, roughly 14 miles to the west of Peterborough. It has historically illustrious neighbours in Fotheringhay and Nassington, off to the south east and north east respectively .Apethorpe has history enough of its own though, with Apethorpe Palace once being owned by Elizabeth I, after she had inherited it from Henry VIII, and regularly visited by Tudor and Stuart monarchs.

A Roman villa was excavated in the 19th century, a few hundred yards from the palace and Apethorpe was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. More recent history can be seen in the shape of the last village stocks and whipping posts, which are housed in an especially built shelter.

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My first visit here was on a dull December day in 2007, and I was armed with a very basic digital camera. The photographs taken were awful, and long since consigned to the recycle bin, but the memories are still there. I stood in the centre of the village just enjoying the peace and the solitude. There wasn’t a sole about but the sound of birdsong and other assorted farm animals came from all around. 

If it wasn’t for the churches I wouldn’t have visited villages such as this, and to be fair my life’s memories would have been a tad worse off!

The church of St Leonard sits in the centre of the village and consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. The structure that we see today dates mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries, but there is evidence that a Norman church once stood on this site.

  The tower was built in 1633 and the south chapel, which contains the Mildmay monument, of which more later, was built in 1621’

The tower is square and perpendicular with battlemented top. Gargoyles look out from the four corners; with one having an unkempt growth of foliage spouting from the top. This page is being revised during January 2022, and this reminds me of lockdown hairstyles seen in Zoom meetings as the need for a barber got more and more acute!

A clock, offset low down on the south face of the tower, and in the traditional colours of blue and gold, is dated 1704 and was made by Stamford clockmaker John Watts; another of his clocks is to be found at nearby Nassington. A single bell hangs here, this being cast by Newcome of Leicester during the 16th century.

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Pre covid, the church here was always open and welcoming. I am not sure what the current situation is but hopefully things have returned to normal.

Moving inside, it was bright and welcoming inside, with the sun streaming in through the south clerestory windows. There are three bay arcades to north and south. Two grotesque heads look out from either side of the chancel arch. The altar is plain and simple, just a cross and two candlesticks with wooden reredos behind. Less is more!

    The east window is a depiction of the Last Supper. This was made by John Rowell of High Wycombe, and is dated at 1732. This was made at a time when stained glass making was a declining art. The artists of their day used to produce "painted glass windows" instead. Over the years most of these faded very badly and this is a very rare surviving example. The window here was removed in 1994 and restored.

This is a traditional depiction, with John leaning in against Jesus, who has His arm on John’s shoulder. Judas, looks as furtive as always, head in hand, money bag being held by the other and seemingly ignoring one of the other disciples who is talking to him. There seems to be an air of informality with much laughter. I like this one very much.

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A three bay arcade leads in to the south chapel, which was built in 1621 to house the Mildmay Monument, which is regarded as one of the finest of the period. The effigies of Sir Anthony, who died in 1617 and his wife Lady Grace, who passed on three years later, lay side by side, with hands raised in prayer, on a black and white tomb chest under a great canopy. In each corner stands a female figure representing the four virtues, Piety, Charity, Wisdom and Justice.  On the north side of this monument Man's mortality is depicted by a human skull and the gravedigger’s tools of pick shovel and torch.

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   In the same year, a huge stained glass window was commissioned. This is a really stunning piece of work. The first panel shows Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. At the bottom of this panel is the wording "love not your own pleasures more than your own souls".  Adam and Eve stand to either side of the tree of the fruit of knowledge, each with fruit in their hand. The serpent is coiled around the tree, facing Eve. Bizarre birds are in flight, which reminded me of the bird window at Clipsham in Rutland.

 The next shows Christ on the cross. Here we have a powerful depiction of the crucifixion. Jesus’ followers are in the background, looking on from high ground, the wording "Poor friends far off, great enemies near" reads across the bottom. It is a chaotic scene around the cross. Jesus is given wine vinegar on a hyssop stick and is speared at the same time. The crowds flock at the foot of the cross. This is a world away from the traditional sanitised Victorian depiction.

    The third panel shows the Day of Judgement, with Christ standing with one foot on a globe and the other standing on the devil, who is trodden underfoot. Below; bodies rise from the grave. Under this is the wording "the dead men shall live".

 The final panel shows circles of flames, which are surrounded by crowned figures; the text underneath reading "More honour to kneel in heaven than to be knelt to on earth"

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   Close to the Mildmay Monument is the tomb of the Lord of the Manor, Sir Richard Dalton, who died in 1442. This is another very fine piece of work, but it looked stunning with the sunshine pouring in through the south windows on this gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon. Dalton is depicted recumbent, in armour, hands raised in prayer, with some hint of colour in his long flowing hair. The annunciation is carved at the top of the slab, around his head, and close examination showed a ladybird perched on one of his gauntlets. Makes a change from paper clips and ball point bens that I have found on the computer when looking back at photos that I hadn’t noticed at the time.

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   The compact church grounds are well maintained and there are a few very nicely carved Georgian headstones standing. Close to the porch stands the base and lower part of an ancient churchyard cross, which dates from the 14th century and has a Grade II Listing in its own right.

  This is one of my favourite churches in Northamptonshire. There is so much of interest here. As mentioned earlier, it was open in pre covid days and I hope that anyone interested in seeing inside is still able to do so.

If you would like to take a look at my page looking at my visit to neighbouring Woodnewton, please click on the photograph immediately above right to be directed there. This page will open in a different window.