MARKET DEEPING : CHURCH OF ST GUTHLAC

Church Post Code PE6 8DA

Church generally open to visitors

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A cold and icy early January day in 2015 and it was a return visit to the church of St Guthlac, Market Deeping. David and I had attended an evening prayer here late the previous autumn. We took some decent exterior shots as the sun started to set, but there was little chance to do the interior justice.

 I came back alone shortly after the turn of the year. The church of St Guthlac was the first church of the day photographed in what turned out to be a successful crawl in decent lighting.

   St Guthlac was an Anglo Saxon hermit who was once a soldier. He decided to live a life of solitude and religious study, opting to live in seclusion at Crowland (also known as Croyland), which was then an island. He built a small chapel there with two helpers. He died in 714, aged around 40. Crowland Abbey was founded in his memory, with his sister, Pega, also building a church at nearby Peakirk.

Market Deeping is a very pleasant market town of some 6,000 at the time of the 2011 census. It stands on the north bank of the river Welland, on the A15, roughly half way between Peterborough and Bourne. The market square has some delightful Georgian buildings. Market Deeping meanders in to Deeping St James, with the Boundary fish and chip shop possibly giving some indication of where one stops and the other begins.

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The church of St Guthlac is at the side of the main road, and consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, chancel and vestry. The oldest parts of the church date from the late 12th to early 13th centuries. The three stage western tower dates from 1440, this is heavily buttressed and battlemented with gargoyles surrounding the top.

The church clock faces out to the south; a sun dial to the south is inscribed ‘the day is thine’. It carries on to the north side of the tower, recording the last of the sun for the day, reading ‘the night cometh’. This dates from 1710 and was restored in 1880.

 There was much restoration here in Victorian times with the church re-opening in 1878 after 18 months of ongoing work.

   There is an impressive ring of eight bells here. The first two in the ring are of no real historical interest, being cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1998. However, the other six are all from Joseph Eayre of St Neots, with all six being cast in 1766. Two of the bells are inscribed with the name of the Rector of the day, Lawrence Maydwell, along with John Mawby and John Boyall, the then church wardens.

   Several of the bells have Latin inscriptions on them. One reads CUM VOCO VENITE 'Come when I call', another reads OMNIA FIANT AD GLORIAM DEI which translates as 'Let all things be done for the glory of God'. One further is inscribed EGO SUM VOX CLAMATIS 'I am the voice of one crying'. A final one reads IN DEI GLORIAM ECCLESIAE COMMODUM 'In the Glory of God and in the Good of the Church'.

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   The church was open to visitors and after I had picked myself up off the pavement after slipping on some ice a little way up from the church (and yes, the immediate reaction was to quickly look around to see if anyone had seen me fall) I went inside.

Fond memories of visiting this church a few years previously and arriving just as a guided tour was about to start, which I enjoyed very much! This time I had the church to myself.

Moving in to the chancel, the east window is of five lights and of clear glass. Below that, a reredos consists of two angels praying at either side of a cross; this being produced in mosaic form.

   There are two image niches in the chancel, one to each side of the east window. One has a 19th century carving of St Guthlac in it. The other niche has a carving of Saint Hugh of Lincoln. He was canonised in 1220 and is the Patron Saint of sick children, sick people, shoemakers and swans. Legend states that Hugh befriended a wild swan, who would follow him around and eat from his hand, but who would attack anyone else who came near.

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There is some decent stained glass here; with nothing of any great age. One panel depicts Jesus forgiving Peter for betraying Jesus on the night of his crucifixion. ‘Feed My Sheep’ it says below as Peter holds the key to the Kingdom of Heaven.

   An epiphany scene shows Mary cradling the baby Jesus, with the three wise men giving gifts. Joseph is absent from this one. Text below this window reads 'And Thy Sons Shall Come From Afar'. 

One further window depicts Samuel being chosen to become a prophet of the Lord. ‘Speak for your servant listeneth’ reads across the bottom, this being part of I Samuel Chapter 3 verse 10. Opposite Samuel, his father Eli holds his head in despair when Samuel tells him that God is to bring judgement on Eli’s family, for allowing his two other sons to desecrate His name. Eli’s two other sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who are shown above Eli in this stained glass, were killed in battle in the following chapter, with Eli himself following soon after.

This window is in memory of surgeon John Webster and I always find it fascinating to think that this, to be fair, relatively lesser known Old Testament verse was obviously a favourite to this person all those years ago. A tiny insight in to a person long deceased!

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Two windows on the south wall of the chancel tell the story of Guthlac in a series of 12 roundels. These include him building his original chapel at Crowland and telling Ethelbald that he will one day be king. He gave sanctuary to Ethelbald, future king of Mercia, who was fleeing from his cousin Ceolred. Guthlac predicted that Ethelbald would become king, and Ethelbald promised to build him an abbey if his prophecy became true. Ethelbald indeed became king, and even though Guthlac had died two years before, he kept his word and started to build Crowland Abbey in 716.

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   A plaque on the north wall of the nave records the passing of a colourful local character. It reads "To the memory of William Goodale who died April ye 9th 1716, aged 110 Creative accounting with regards his age? Possibly, especially given that the church records for the period in which he lived were destroyed by the then Rectors wife, in what the church guide quotes as a ‘fit of passion’.

   Stone heads can be seen throughout the nave. One has a hand to and ear and his other hand to his mouth, possibly suggesting to the onlooker that they might care to watch their tongues and not to listen to gossip. A little distance away a ferocious creature shows a fearsome display of teeth, another has tongue out in medieval gesture of insult.

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The church grounds are interesting and are well worth a look around, with several gravestones and tombs having their own Grade II listing. I will just mention one table tom, to one John Thorton, dating from 1764, which is one that is listed. The carving on this sees a putto, a naked male child, reclining on a coffin, with one elbow leaning down on a skull. The coffin and skull are standard symbols of death; the mortality of Man. The act of pressing down on the skull, by hand, foot or elbow is often seen and is a way of expressing that death is beaten.

An example can be seen at nearby Maxey, where a figure treads on a skull with one foot, whilst pointing upwards towards Heaven with one hand. Death is trodden underfoot so to speak.

This is a beautiful church in a lovely village. Pre covid the church here was open to visitors; I am not sure what the current position is at the time of revising this page in January 2022. Well worth a look if you get the chance.

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If you would like to see the page for my visit to Crowland Abbey, the site of which is close to St Guthlac's hermitage, please click on the photograph immediately above right to be directed there. This page will open up in another window.