MAXEY : CHURCH OF ST PETER
Church Post Code PE6 9HF
usually closed to visitors
It was a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 2015, and there was a rare chance to see inside the church of St Peter, Maxey. The church here is normally to be found closed to visitors but it was Cambridgeshire Historic Churches tour afternoon, with St Peter being second out of three churches visited that day. We had opened the afternoon at the church of St Pega at Peakirk; with the procession of churchcrawlers later heading off to Crowland Abbey (which I know is in Lincolnshire).
This is a church that I have visited several times over the years; fond memories of a warm late summer Saturday afternoon from several years previously. Storms were forecast, the air was heavy and the church was surrounded by ‘sausage roll’ like hay stacks.
Maxey is an ancient village, which sits close to King Street, the old Roman road, which ran from Castor and Ailsworth to Ancaster. The earliest part of the existing church date to 1113 but tombstones excavated in the church grounds confirm that there was a church here in Saxon times. In 1013 the church and the village were both burned by Vikings.
In the first quarter of the 12th century, the first stage of the Norman tower was built. It is thought that the same masons who built the magnificent church of St Kyneburgha at Castor were responsible for the building here. Looking at the western wall of the west tower, I can certainly see where that theory has come from. At this time the nave roof was thatched.
The tower was raised in 1140 and shortly after that the clerestory windows were added, which were later to be replaced, and the north and south aisles added. In 1315 the tower was raised again, to its present height. This extra weight caused a crack to appear in the tower and buttressing had to be added to the north west corner of the tower.
There are six bells hanging here. One is dated 1853 and was cast by Mears of London. Two bells were cast by Thomas Osborne of Downham in Norfolk, with both of these being dated 1800. One of these was subsequently re-cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1906. The other three were made more locally, each being cast by Thomas Norris of the Stamford Bellfoundry. Each of these are dated 1661, with one being inscribed with the names W King and J Freeman, who would have been the church wardens of the day.
Under the tower is the Sweeting Museum. This was a small display of interesting and unusual artefacts that were found in the church grounds or in the parish. This was put together by Revd WD Sweeting, who was the rector here from 1881 until 1901. The Revd Sweeting did a study of the local churches in the Peterborough area, and his notes were put down in a book entitled "Historical And Architectural Notes On The Parish Churches In And Around Peterborough" This is a fascinating book, which I am pleased to have an original copy, which was printed in 1868. It has photographs included in it, which were taken by William Ball of Broad Street Peterborough and these must be some of the earliest photographs ever taken of churches in this area.
There are gargoyles at each corner of the tower, and a gargoyle lower down on the east wall of the chancel. There is a corbel string separating the first and second stages of the tower. In its time this would have been very fine work but, sadly, it is now very weathered. The church itself is on slightly raised ground and the whole structure is quite heavily buttressed.
Moving inside and this is a big spacious church. Hugely impressive and it was well received by those taking the tour. The chancel arch is massive and leads in to a large chancel, which is fairly plain except for a rare surviving example of an Easter Sepulchre The east window in the chancel is plain glass. There is not much stained glass to be seen here, but my eye was immediately caught by two small pieces of medieval stained glass. One of these depicts a saint wielding a sword, which could be St Michael. A more modern window depicts St Gabriel and St Michael, with this window donated in memory of Gerard Talbot Sweeting, youngest son of the vicar previously mentioned, who was killed in Belgium in 1915 during the First World War.
St Michael, as usual, is dressed in armour and carrying a sword and scales, in which the souls of the deceased were weighed for judgement. The scales here are empty but sometimes they are depicted with the righteous in one dish of the scales and condemned in the other.
Moving back to the Easter Sepulchre on the north wall of the chancel for a moment; these are very interesting. The religion of England in pre reformation days was catholic. The catholic belief is that Jesus is physically present within the host, the communion bread. The host was brought out on Good Friday and placed in to the Easter Sepulchre. Candles were lit around it and members of the congregation stood guard over it until the first mass of Easter morning, when it was brought out; symbolic of Jesus emerging from the tomb.
Easter Sepulchres were hated by the reformers, who saw them as idolatrous, with most being destroyed. The one here at St Peter is in really good condition,
There was a chantry chapel to the north of the chancel here from the mid 14th century, which was re-built during the 15th century.
There are some fine quality stone carvings on the capital to the west of the nave. Some of these resemble green men, with what could be foliage sprouting out of the mouth of each figure. It was good to see the nave furnished with old and beautiful box pews.
Church grounds are spacious and there are a scattering of very finely carved gravestones to be seen. One stone, close to the south porch, caught my eye in particular. The scropt is pretty much worm away to nothing but I would estimate that this gravestone dates from the first half of the 18th century, A figure stands to the left and right of the grave, each figure having one foot on top of a human skull, arm raised with finger pointing upwards. The symbolism of the foot placed on top of the skull would be victory over death with the finger pointing to the heavens indicating the strong belief that the deceased would be going to heaven.
As with many other churches in this area, the gravestones are very weathered but there is enough left to suggest that some of the work of the stonemasons here was of very high quality. There are a few nicely carved box tombs in the church grounds here, including one to Daniel Webster of Nunton. The church of St Peter at Maxey also covered the nearby villages of Nunton and Lolham and each of these two dwindled in population over the years. I believe that both villages are now no more!
It was good to see inside the church here and it was worth the wait, the visit here being roughly nine years after my first visit here. David and myself parted company with the rest of the party after we had finished up here. They headed off to Crowland Abbey whilst we headed off to paint Rutland beige!
The photographs on this page are from two different visits.