NASSINGTON : CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN
Church Post Code PE8 6QH
Usually open to visitors
The church of St Mary the Virgin and All Saints was one of the churches that I visited on the first day of shooting for the original website, back in September 2006. It has proved to be a favourite church of mine, which I have visited often. The photographs used on this page are all from a glorious September afternoon in 2019.
The village itself can be found in East Northamptonshire, some six miles north east of Oundle and with Fotheringhay as an illustrious neighbour. It is thought that the area where the church stands today has been a place of worship for 1,000 years.
Nassington was once in the Diocese of Lincoln, which stretched from the Humber to the Thames. Nassington was chosen, between the years 1118 and 1121, to be the base of a prebendary of Lincoln. The prebendary was to exercise authority over the surrounding parishes and a prebendal house was built close to the church. This was a crucial moment for St Mary and it brought wealth and importance to the church and stimulated its rebuilding and extension. Work on the impressive tower was started within sixty years of this date and over the years further rebuilding took place leading to what is the impressive structure that we see today.
According to the well produced and informative history booklet that was available from the church there was a fire at the church at the turn of the 13th Century. Those found guilty were excommunicated as they had "grievoufly molefted the church of Naffington". This was an extremely severe punishment in those days.
The church that we see today consists of west tower with recessed spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. The church is on slightly raised ground, with the ground being at the same level as the top of the church wall, giving an uninterrupted view across the church grounds. The grounds are particularly attractive in the spring, with a nice display of daffodils and a beautiful magnolia to the south of the church.
Looking at the church from the south, the west tower rises up from a lean to at the west end of the south aisle. The tower is of five stages with the lower three stages daring back to the 11th century. The upper stage is octagonal and battlemented, leading to the recessed, crocketed spire; which has a date stamp of 1640 on it, this no doubt being the date of some rebuilding. The spire is attached to tower with flying buttresses.
Lots of grotesques are to be seen on the tower and the spire. Some of these are in pretty poor condition. To my surprise, there is a representation of an ape high up, with large hands and fee. I am assuming that this dates from the re-build of 1640. I can’t imagine that apes were a common sight in this area at that time. Perhaps this is a reference to an event, such as a circus coming through, which had an ape which is memorialised for us to see more than 350 years later.
The church had major restoration work done on it in the 1880's. In that time part of a Saxon Cross was uncovered. This is carved on all four sides and is said to have dated from the 10th Century. Amongst other carvings this has on it a representation of the Crucifixion. It has been estimated that, if complete, the cross would have stood some ten feet high.
There are five bells hanging here. The first was cast by John Warner and Sons at the Crescent Foundry at Cripplegate in London in 1874. The second and fourth bells were each cast locally, by different generations of the Norris family at the Stamford bellfoundry. The earlier of the two is the fourth bell which has the inscription "Thomas Norris Made Me 1642". The other Norris bell was from Tobias Norris III and has the name XW Meates and T Thacker, the churchwardens at the time as well as the inscription "Toby Norris Cast Me 1686".
Bell three was cast in St Neots by Josepy Eayre in the mid 18th century, and has the names L Male and T Handson inscribed, with again being the churchwardens of the day. Bell five is more of a rarity with this bell being cast in Downham, Norfolk by Thomas Osborn. Dated 1801, this bell has the names Edw Handson and Rob Osborn on it.
This is an area of open church, at least this was the case pre covid, and I have never visit the church at Nassington and found it closed. Moving inside, I was struck by how bright and welcoming it was, sunlight streaming in through the south windows. There is no stained glass here, although there is some tinted glass in the east window.
There are four bay Modern, comfortable, chairs lead up to the chancel’ the altar is plain and simple, with just a couple of candles on the altar itself and a cross above the red curtain reredos. Standing at the chancel and looking to the west, the semi circular tower arch dates back to the 12th century. Over the top of the tower arch is a painting of the crucifixion. At the cross is Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and John. This is a slightly unusual depiction as Mary Magdalene, visually upset as usual, faces away from the cross and is being comforted by John.
A clock can be seen inside the church against the North wall. It is dated 1695, and was made in Stamford by John Watts. It was in use on the church tower for 200 years. This was restored in 1982 and is in working order. John Watts, and later his son Robert, were well known clockmakers in the area and another example of Watts senior's work can be seen at St Leonards at Apethorpe. Watts always signed his work IW with the date.
The wall paintings on the North wall and over the chancel arch were uncovered in the 1880's by the Revd Barrett with the aid of a pen knife! The wall painting is either St Martin of Tours dividing his cloak or a representation of St George and the Dragon.
There is also a painting depicting St Katherine being tied to a wheel by her persecutors. She was sentences to death by Roman Emperor Maxentius. She was to be killed on the spiked breaking wheel, but when she was tied to the wheel it immediately shattered and she was beheaded instead. There is not a great deal of medieval wall paintings to be found within the catchment area of this site, but there is another depiction of St Katherine and the wheel to be found at St Kyneburgha at Castor a few miles away across the fields.
The wall painting over the chancel arch shows Christ, with his hand raised in blessing, surrounded by his disciples. All of the paintings date from the 14th or 15th centuries. All that can be seen here is the top half of Christ and the disciples, with most of it being lost.
There are some fine quality Georgian gravestones to be seen here, but nothing of any great rarity or interest. A public footpath runs past the east side of the church grounds and invariably a friendly local will come over to say hello when they see someone about with the camera.
I have fond memories of a very pleasant lady vicar coming over and chatting, a few days before Christmas several years ago. Three of us stood in the church grounds chatting; I think that she was delivering Christmas cards from memory. It was a gorgeous day with a beautiful sky and jet after jet going over, taking people to wherever they were spending their Christmas break. It is strange what sticks in the memory!