GREAT GIDDING : CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL

Church Post Code PE28 5NX

Normally open to visitors.

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I first visited Great Gidding at Easter 2007; with this being part of an eight church cycling churchcrawl. I had planned out the route so that I would be starting early and getting home in time to watch England take on Australia in the Cricket World Cup. The churchcrawl went fine; the cricket not so…

Over the years, the church of St Michael has been a regular point of call; with fond memories of an evening prayer service here with friendly locals and not so fond memories of being seen out of a field to the west of the church by an over excited horse, who I later named ‘Screaming Psycho’.

The photographs here were taken on a gloriously sunny March afternoon in 2022. Great Gidding was the final church visited in a seven church crawl. It was good to see the church open after a period where covid and then building works kept the doors closed to visitors. I had cycled in from neighbouring Glatton; pleasantly full of home made lemon slab cake from a fayre at the village hall, which did not help much with the fairly steep incline between the two villages!

The Giddings comprise of three villages, Great, Little and Steeple with Great, probably not surprisingly being the largest. Having said that I still find it amusing that Great Snoring in Norfolk in smaller than neighbouring Little Snoring! Great Gidding can be found some 10 miles north west of Huntingdon. Each of the three villages has a church and these represent the furthest south that this site covers.  The population of Great Gidding was 363 at the time of the 2011 census. In fairness, you could add the populations of Little and Steeple Gidding on to this this without much of an increase!

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The church of St Michael consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. There was no church mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086. There was a church here though before the middle of the 13th century, the present south doorway dating from this time. The chancel dates from the late 13th century; with the chancel arch and nave being rebuilt around 1400.

The lower parts of the west tower dates from the early 14th century, with the belfry stage being added later that century. The parapet and recessed spire date from the 15th century, as does the north and south aisles and south porch.

    In Victorian times, the church of St Michael was in poor condition. In 1843, the Archdeacon said that the church was "Very indifferent, roof especially" whilst the Church Wardens of the day said in 1857 that St Michael was "Much dilapidated". The church was restored in 1870, with further restoration to the tower and chancel arch in 1925

The slim, perpendicular west tower is buttressed up to the belfry stage. A recessed octagonal broach spire rises up with two tiers of lucarne windows at the main compass points. A parapet runs along the top of the tower, which has a frieze consisting of a repeated quatre foil pattern. Above this is a string of small, grotesquely contorted human heads, with  much larger and much weathered gargoyles central on each side of the tower.

   There is a ring of five bells at St Michael. The first bell is inscribed with the initials TG or TC and was cast by Thomas Norris of the Stamford bellfoundry in 1670. The next three bells are all Victorian with the second and third of the ring being cast by William Taylor of Oxford in 1839. The fourth of the ring is courtesy of Taylor of Loughborough in 1873. It is more than possible that these were recasting’s of existing bells that previously hung here.

The fifth of the ring was cast by Joseph Eayre of St Neots, with this one dated 1756. There is an interesting inscription on this one, which reads ‘Conjugium Partus Mysteria Festa Decoro Anno Domini 1756’ My spell checker did not care for that one, which when translated reads ‘to marriage, childbirth, mysteries and festivals I give grace’.

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It was bright and welcoming inside, with sunlight streaming in through the south windows as the sun started to edge around to the west; whitewashed walls and lack of stained glass in the nave helping in this respect. According to the village website, building work had been ongoing of late, and the east window of the north aisle was still boarded up.

There are four bat arcades to north and south; a red carpet leads up to the chancel arch, with Victorian pews to either side. Up in the rafters a couple of carvings of wooden heads look out, including one smiling figure with neatly platted beard. In the south aisle, the test John Lamb Church Warden is carved in to a beam in delightfully rustic lettering. This is dated 1629.

There are two bays in the chancel to north and south; these being blind and set against the exterior walls.  The altar is plain and simple with white altar cloth with gold trim being used as we were in to the season of Lent. There is just a simple cross on the altar; less is more! The reredos on the east wall is Victorian and features the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

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There is some decent stained glass here. The east window is of three lights. The central light is a depiction of Jesus, cradling a lamb. ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ is written below. This flanked, to the left as we look at it, by Peter, who carries the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. To our right is St Paul, who, as usual, is portrayed carrying a sword, with point downwards.

Both of these characters are normally depicted with receding hairlines; but that is not the case here. Both are shown with full heads of hair; which may be a very minor point I accept but is a little unusual!

A four light window shows four scenes from the annunciation to Jesus as a baby. As well as the annunciation and a generic depiction of the baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph, we also have Joseph being warned in a dream that Jesus; life was in danger and a fourth panel shows the subsequent flight to Egypt. I have rarely seen the angel appearing to Joseph in a dream in stained glass before, and it was good to see this here, alongside the annunciation as each demonstrated their faithfulness and trust in God,

A small single light window shows St Michael, dressed in armour, with evil in the symbolic form of a dragon, well and truly vanquished!  On the south wall of the chancel is a depiction of Faith Hope and Charity. In Faith, a lady holds a processional cross; Hope carries an anchor, a symbol of Christian faith. Charity cradles a child!

This is a reference to I Corinthians Chapter 13; the famous verses on love, read out at countless weddings. In the old King James version, the word charity was used, but this was replaced by the word love in more modern translations. In the King James version, this section end with verse 13 which reads ‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity’.

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    Moving back outside, the church grounds are large and are of much interest. One very ancient grave caught my eye. This grave is not in situ and was leaning against a tree. The stone itself is very crudely carved, and is dated 1661; with the script very faded as you might expect.

As far as I can tell, it reads ‘You have come to my grave to see, Now as I am sow you may be, repent now no time delay for in my prime I was cast away’. Name illegible sadly.

Here we have what appears to be a sudden death in times of low life expectancy. The message to the onlooker is clear; you will go the same way as the deceased and possibly sooner rather than later so be prepared, live a good Christian life and make your peace with God whilst you are still able to do so!

It was good to be back here again and to see inside the church again for the first time in several years. This was the end to the day’s churchcrawl and it was roughly 13 miles back to home and it was a very pleasant ride back, via Luddington In The Brook, Hemmington and Lutton. It was a leisurely ride back; there was no need to rush, which was just as well as that was not going to happen if there had been a need!

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The two photographs below were taken on previous visits to the church of St Michael. To visit the page for my visit to Steeple Gidding, please click on the photograph below left. To visit the page for Little Gidding, please click on the photograph below right. Each page will open up in a different window.

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