GLINTON : CHURCH OF ST BENEDICT

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Church Post Code  PE6 7JN

Usually open to visitors

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It was a beautifully sunny, January afternoon in 2022 and the church of St Benedict, Glinton was the ninth of what turned out to be a ten church crawl, covering three counties. The church was open to visitors, meaning that it was nine open churches out of nine thus far.

I had made several visits to the church here over the years; with fond memories of a visit here back in the winter of 2009. The country had been paralysed with the heaviest snowfall seen in several years. It was bitterly cold, with icicles several inches long hanging from the gargoyles. I took a walk to neighbouring Peakirk, with the flat Cambridgeshire fields looking so beautiful with the sun shining down on the snow. Less than fond memories of getting caught on foot in a thunderstorm in the same area on Historic Churches Trust Ride and Stride Day a few years later!

The church here is a beautiful, striking, structure with its 140 foot needle spire dominating the flat landscape for miles around. The "Peasant Poet" John Clare  immortalised the church in his poem "Glinton Spire". Perhaps less romantically, the British Listed Buildings entry for the church here describes the church as having a ‘disproportionately tall octagonal recessed spire’.

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    There was a church here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. The early Saxon church here would have been a basic wooden building, nothing of which remains today. In the 12th century, a church was constructed out of Barnack stone. This consisted of a nave and chancel, with possibly a north aisle. Much rebuilding was done here in the 13th century, and more still in the 15th century, at which point in time the tower and spire were added.

Other work completed here in the 15th century included the arcades being rebuilt, as well as clerestory and south porch being added. The structure that we see today consists of west tower, with recessed octagonal spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.

There is also an infamous gargoyle here, which can be found at the eastern end of the south wall of the nave. There is a row of conventional gargoyles and one that is reversed at the end of the line. This gargoyle is bearing his buttocks, with an upside down face leering in between his legs. It is said that the stonemasons of the day were paid in accordance with how their bosses viewed the quality of the work. It is suggested that the stonemason in question was unhappy with what he had been paid, so carved this gargoyle as a personal comment, expressing his discontent so to speak, and aimed it so that its buttocks were pointed in a direct line towards Peterborough Cathedral. There are a few of these about, most notably at Easton on the Hill, high up on the tower. Urban myth...possibly, but a good story nonetheless!

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    Whilst still on the subject of towers, a ring of six bells hang here, all of these being cast by Thomas Osborn of Downham Market in Norfolk. One of these is dated 1798, with the remainder dated a year later. The first four bells have some lovely inscriptions on them. The first says "The Lord to Praise, My Voice I'll Raise" whilst the inscription on the second reads "Peace and Good Neighborhood". The third reads "Give No Offence to the Church" whilst the fourth says "Our Voices Shall with Joyful Sound, Make Hills and Valleys Echo Round".

   The fifth bell notes the names Edmund and George Webster, the churchwardens of the day. The final bell reads "John Scott Did Pay For Me One Hundred Pounds and Odd Money".

Those entering the church through the south porch will see two very impressive 14th century tomb tops standing inside the porch. These are thought to represent members of the De La Mere family who came over from Normandy with William the Conqueror. These tomb tops are thought to have come from the south transept at nearby Northborough.

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   Moving inside, the interior is bright and welcoming; very little in the way of stained glass helping in this respect. There are three bays to north and south, with the pews looking to be Victorian for the most part. Poppy head carvings include a Green Man and a couple of mythical beasts, the symbolism of the latter may well have been lost over the centuries.

 A series of grotesque heads can be seen to north and south.  One figure looks upwards towards Heaven, hand in prayer, and a serene expression on its face. Several other figures appear to be in anguish. A lesson there, I daresay, for congregation throughout the centuries. At the foot of a wall monument, a human skull and crossed bones remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die.

The sanctuary looked absolutely beautiful; being bathed in sunshine. There is a very pleasing symmetrical feel to it. The altar just has a small cross on it. There are large candlesticks to north and south of the altar and the reredos, which runs the complete width of the chancel, is a blue curtain.

There is not a great deal of stained glass here, but the east window does have a depiction of the Ascension. The 11 disciples gaze up as Jesus, who is curiously without any crucifixion wounds, is taken up towards Heaven. The Holy Spirit shines down on Jesus and angels play musical instruments in the tracery.

The other stained glass here is a two light window, which shows St Peter, holding the Key to the Kingdom of Heaven, and St George, shown with armour and sword but without dragon! The font is Norman, and is designed with squares and crosses. The bowl looks to be far older than the base that it is resting on.

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    The church grounds here are large and well kept. There is a real oddity close to the porch. A gravestone dated 1652 reads as follows..."Herae lyeath the Bodyes of Robert Smith and XX John Smith Dyed 1652" Note that the letter "N" are reversed, please see photograph middle bottom. On the reverse side of this grave is another carving. Again, this has the same olde English rustic script, but this time the "N"s are the right way around but the letter "D"'s are reversed. The grave commemorates one Elizabeth Strickson, who passed away in 1712. The actual carving here is very crisp, and looks to have been worked relatively recently.

Close by a carving on what appears to be a late 17th century gravestone again features the human skull as a symbol of mortality. Many people would have been buried without gravestones in those days, so that was obviously for a person of some means, but of lesser means than the person on the memorial inside, which had the same symbolism.

    Poet John Clare's childhood sweetheart, Mary Joyce died, unmarried, in a house fire in 1838 at the age of 41. She was buried in the church grounds at St Benedict. This was a sad story with any possible romance between the two not possible because John Clare's social standing was so much lower than that of the Joyce's.

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As I was photographing the church grounds, a church warden came over and it was good to chat for a while. It is always good when people connected with a church appreciate someone coming in and taking an interest in the church that they love. After the lady left, my only company was a solitary wood pigeon, who appeared to be enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon. There were plenty of people walking though, making use of what was turning out to be one of the most pleasant January days that we had seen for some times. It was time to head on to Peakirk, my final church of the day, and the only church on the day that I found closed.

By the way, if you would like to see another photograph of a mooning gargoyle; this one a tad more explicit to be honest, click on the photograph of the mooning gargoyle here to be directed to the church of All Saints, Easton On The Hill. This page will open up in another window.