CROWLAND (CROYLAND) ABBEY.

Church Post Code PE6 0EN

This church is normally open to visitors.

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May 2017 and a return visit to Crowland Abbey. It was a warm, humid morning, with the threat of storms, which were to come to fruition later in the day. The light quality dipped alarmingly in the space of five minutes or so when I was photographing the exterior and it was raining by the time I was looking around the interior.

Those visiting Crowland will doubtless be interested in the Trinity Bridge, which can be found a little way from the Abbey.  This is a triangular bridge dating from the 14th century. This used to bridge over the course of two rivers, which used to go through the centre of the town. These days though the course of the rivers have been altered.

I have fond memories of previous visits to the church here. Standing to the north west of the church on a gloriously warm summer evening, watching a line of swans swim past with the abbey in the background. Also of taking in an evening prayer service and spending some quality time afterwards with a very fluffy and friendly cat who was wearing a red checked cravat!

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   Crowland, or Croyland, Abbey  was founded in the 8th Century, with St Guthlac living there as a hermit from the years 699 until 714. The Abbey was dissolved in 1539, and over the centuries large sections of the building have collapsed. The building itself has had a torrid history. It was ransacked by the Danes in AD 870 with the then Abbott Theodore being murdered. There was also a disastrous fire in AD 1091, in which the entire building was razed to the ground. The Abbey was re-built, but suffered another fire in the 12th Century, with some reports stating that the Abbey was also damaged in an earthquake at one point!

   As well as the obvious damage, a closer look shows that many of the statues have been defaced over the years, with many heads missing and faces obliterated. Some of this would undoubtedly have occurred during the reformation, but some of this damaged would have occurred during the English Civil War when the Abbey was under siege for three months. The nave roof collapsed in 1720.

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The North Aisle of the Abbey is used as the Parish church today, and this is about an eighth the size of what the building would have been before 1539.

   The west front here is truly remarkable for the number of carvings. These date from the 12th to the 14th centuries and it is said that the west front was an imitation of Wells Cathedral. Carvings surround what would once have been a massive window. Figures of men, several dressed in priest’s robes, stand next to strange grotesque creatures. One human figure strokes his beard thoughtfully, whilst next to him a bald headed man stands with a pig like creature at his feet, pulling his mouth wide open in a medieval gesture of insult. Close by a chained and fierce looking dog looks west and snarls. There is so much to see here.

Stonemasons were working on the Abbey when Halleys Comet went over. They carved their impression of what they saw on to one of the walls.

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    The North Aisle of the Abbey is used as the Parish church today, and this is about an eighth the size of what the building would have been before 1539. The Abbey is kept open to the public, and this is a popular place for tourists to look at. As you enter through the west door there is a fascinating gravestone to one Willian De Wermington, the master stonemason, who was responsible for the vaulting in the north aisle. The inscription round the sides of the slab reads: +ICI   GIST MESTRE WILLM DE WERMINGTON LE MASON A LALME DE KY DEV LY PAR SA GRACE DOUNE ABSOLUTION (Here lies William de Wermington the Mason, may God grant his soul absolution). The date of death is not recorded but it is thought to date from around 1330.

It was very beautiful inside with the chancel being lit. Nave is separated from chancel by a rood screen, with a carving of the crucifixion above.  The fine east window has high quality stained glass. The four evangelists are depicted, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Under their images are smaller scenes which detail the nativity, Christ in majesty, the crucifixion and the ascension. Under this are several male bearded figures, each of whom carry a crown.

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Another three light window depicts St Guthlac, the Virgin Mary and St Bartholomew; the latter carrying a flaying knife, which indicates the manner of his martyrdom.

There is plenty of other glass here, but just to mention a portrayal of St Nicholas; who is depicted carrying a crozier and wearing a Bishops miter. He is patron saint of sailors and if often portrayed carrying a boat, as is the case here. The story is that he was sailing through a very rough sea, which was calmed by his prayers. Occasionally, St Nicholas is shown with three boys climbing out of a barrel. This refers to the legend which states that he found three murdered boys, picked in a barrel, and the purity of his prayers was enough to see the boys brought back to life.

    The font is particularly ancient here and is one of the few surviving fixtures from the time of the earthquake in the first quarter of the 12th century. Also of considerable interest here, mounted on a wall, is a tiny stone coffin lid which I think is Norman and probably from around the same time.

    Close by this is a memorial slab to Thomas Robbarts, Gent, who passed away in October 1700 aged 23 years. The slab also commemorates his infant daughter Mary, who died a few weeks after her father aged 40 weeks.

    Some interesting wall plaques hang here. One is to Elizabeth Hurry, who died in 1742 aged 25 years. The epitaph at bottom of the plaque is still moving all these years later..."A cruel death that separated her, a loving mother from her children dear. She was a tender Mother in her life, and to her spouse was a kind and loving wife. Her days were few. Death crop't her in her prime"

    There is, close by, a plaque commemorating Abraham Basy and his wife Mary, who died within a short time of each other in the very early 1700's. The plaque takes the form of a long and elaborate script, some of which is very difficult to decipher. It ends though, with a warning to any onlooker reading the plaque....."O reader, then behold and see, as we are now so must you be" The message that Man is mortal and will die was an important one in those days, passed over to the onlooker in either script or symbols; reminding them that they would go the same way as the deceased one day so live a good Christian life in the meantime as each day could be your last. Three examples which illustrate that life was often short and harsh in those days.

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 The 6th Abbot of Crowland, named Turketyl was responsible for casting a great bell here, naming it Guthlac. Six more bells were added over the next few years and this was the first peal of bells to be rung in the whole of England. Sadly, in 1091, the heat from the fire that destroyed the abbey caused the tower to collapse and the bells melted.

    At the time of North's study of Lincolnshire church bells, there were five bells hanging at the Abbey. The first was made by Thomas Norris of the Stamford Bellfoundry in 1654. Bells two and three were each cast by Edward Arnold in Leicester, with both being dated 1788. These have the names William Hickling and William Cook, the churchwardens of the day, inscribed on them.

 

    The fourth bell is another from Arnold, but this one being dated 1797. This has the name of the Rector, Moore Sciebo, and churchwardens William Cook and Charles Ashby on it. The fifth is courtesy of an early London founder, and is thought to date from the 15th century.

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    The church grounds here are massive, and very well kept. As you would expect, given the importance of the Abbey, there are some very finely carved gravestones to be found here. There are some medieval coffins laid out in front of the west end and a few late 17th century graves are dotted amongst the later Georgian ones. Several of these are still legible, including one commemorating one Frances Carrington, wife of Thomas, who died December 24th 1680.

A fascinating place to spend some time, with a fascinating history! Pre covid the abbey was always open to visitors and had a yearly flower festival. They have also had the Sealed Knot over there to re-enact the civil war siege. This is an absolutely essential visit if you are anywhere near this part of Lincolnshire.

If you would like to see the page for my visit to the church of St Guthlac, Market Deeping, please click on the photograph immediately above right to be directed there. This page will open up in another window.