PEAKIRK : CHURCH OF ST PEGA

Church Post Code PE6 7NH

Closed to visitors.

It was a sunny January afternoon in 2022, with a return visit to the church of St Pega, Peakirk. It had been a good crawl, starting off at Carlby in Lincolnshire; crossing the border in to Rutland before heading back in to Lincolnshire, photographing churches to the west of King Street, the old Roman road. I crossed back in to Cambridgeshire with Peakirk being my final church of the day.

It was good to be out on the cycle again; and with a little pre arrangement I had found all of the churches open until I got to Peakirk. The church here was always open on my previous visits. I was surprised to find it closed; with this maybe down to some lingering effects of covid or maybe a change of heart from those at the church, as St Pega  was victim of a lead theft back in 2018. If it is the latter, I can’t say that I blame them!

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Peakirk can be found some seven miles to the north of Peterborough, with neighbouring Glinton less than a mile away in a vaguely south westerly direction.  The village forms a triangle with the important abbeys at Crowland and Thorney, a few miles distant to the north east and east respectively.  This is a quiet, pleasant village of around 400. There was a wildfowl trust here until 2001 and a railway station which closed in 1964. The village collectors bookshop, which was a must visit on any trip to see this church, has now also closed down.

The church of St Pega can be found at the end of a quiet lane, difficult to photograph from the exterior due to trees and fairly tight church grounds.

I have fond memories of visits here over the years; including a visit back in February 2009, when the country was brought to a standstill by the heaviest fall of snow seen for many years. It was three days after the event, but the snow was still thick on the ground. I walked from Glinton to Peakirk, with the snow glistening on the field as the sun blazed down! On making my way to the church, I was amused to see at least a dozen snowmen arranged on the green to the east of the church; no doubt the remains of a hastily arranged village snowman competition.

I have always enjoyed visiting here, with my previous visit being on an English Heritage Ride and Stride afternoon in 2017 where the church was open and manned with friendly stewards. I got caught in a thunderstorm on foot between Peakirk and Glinton; and for a time I bitterly regretted my choice of hobby before seeing the water pouring out of the spout on Glinton’s mooning gargoyle's rear end and immediately feeling amused!

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  The church is named after St Pega. She was the sister of Guthlac, who set up a hermitage in the Peterborough fens. Pega built her hermitage in imitation of her brother. Guthlac and Pega came from one of the great noble families, and it seems as if Pega received a grant from the King to set up her hermitage. It is said that the current church at Peakirk is built on the site of Pega's retreat. Interestingly, the history books state that Pega sailed up the river Welland to attend her brother’s funeral, and healed a blind man from Wisbech on the way.

   This church was built in the 11th Century, and the dedication to St Pega is a unique one. A north aisle was added in 1170, with a south aisle added some 50 years later. The church that we see today consists of nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, chancel and north chapel. There is no tower; rather a western bell cote which houses three bells.

When Thomas North compiled his study of the church bells of Northamptonshire in the late 1870’s, there were two bells hanging here; with each being of age and interest. The first of the ring was from Newcombe of Leicester, cast in the 16th century and inscribed ‘Thankes Be To God’ My spellchecker hates Newcombe’s work!

The second of the ring was cast locally by Thomas Norris of the Stamford bellfoundry, and is dated 1677. Thomas Norris had a remarkably long career, and was a founder from 1626 with the bell here being cast in what was the penultimate year of a 52 years career!

A third bell was added as recently as 1999, this one becoming the new first of the ring, with this cast by Hayward Mills Associates, a founder from Nottingham and one that I have not encountered before.

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Entrance is through the south porch, and through the Norman south door, with has a tympanum with fan design on it, with zig zag carvings on the arch itself. As mentioned earlier, the church was closed on my January 2022 revisit but was open and welcoming on this September Ride and Stride day visit. It was a warm welcome from the friendly locals on duty and it was good to see a few people looking around. Interior shots are from that visit.

There are three bay arcades to north and south, with a mixture of ancient and modern, the north aisle itself dates back to the 12th century, but most of the fixtures and fittings date back to periods of Victorian restoration.

The font is suggested to be 14th century, with a stained glass image of Jesus being baptised sitting on the west wall nearby!

This church is nationally famous for a series of wall paintings, mainly to be found on the north aisle. These were found by accident. In 1945 traces of colour were seen when a bracket was inserted in to the wall of the north aisle in order that a curtain pole be fixed up. This brought away some lime wash and it was evident that that a wall painting had been lime washed over at some point. By 1950, a whole series of wall paintings had been uncovered, with most of these covering the Easter story from crucifixion to the risen Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning.

There is also a large St Christopher, the patron saint of pilgrims as well as what looks to be a depiction of the three skeletons meeting the three kings. The skeletons say to the living, urging them to repent of their sins, ‘such as I was you are now, and such as I am so you will be’. This was designed to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die, even if they are dressed in fine clothes as the kings were. It was important to be right with God and in days when you could be taken quickly with a disease that could be easily treated today; it could be later than you think

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There is some fine quality stained glass to be seen here; starting with the five light east window, which dates to around 1914. This has the traditional crucifixion scene, with Mary the Mother of Jesus , and John standing on either side of the cross. This is extended a little though, with this scene being flanked by St Pega, to the far left as we look at it, and St Peter to the right.

British Listed Buildings states that this window is by Kempe and Tower. Charles Kempe was a famous stained glass artist who ‘signed’ his work by including a wheatsheaf somewhere in the design. He passed away in 1907 and his cousin Ernest Tower took over the business; and from that time on the signature was a wheatsheaf with a black tower on it.

There should have been a wheatsheaf with tower on it, given that this window is dated after 1907; and there probably is, but I can’t see one on my photos!

Other stained glass includes modern depictions of of Pega, flanked by swans and St Guthlac. There is Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist and Moses drawing water out of a rock with his staff. It is not always the big impressive stained glass depictions that catch the eye though. One small panel  in a lancet at the west end shows a woman giving out gifts to the poor, being watched over approvingly by an angel!

A fine three light window proved hard for me to decipher, but I have come up with the following. The first two panels show men in armour. The figure on the left says ‘Art thou for us or for our adversaries’. The second figure, standing taller than those flanking him and wearing a laurel wreath symbolising victory replies’ ‘Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come’.  This is an exchange from Joshua Chapter 5 from verse 13, which takes place just after the Israelites have entered the Promised Land and are met by this warrior sent from the Lord.

The panel far right is of David, just prior to him slaying Goliath in I Samuel chapter 17 verse 45. David is depicted holding a slingshot and says to the Philistines ‘I come in the name of the Lord of hosts’.

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The church grounds here are of interest with some finely carved stones. Mention must be made of one gravestone which reads ‘Heare lyeth ye body of Rebekah Bateman deceased March ye 8 1627’. This is very well preserved and is one of the most ancient personal gravestones that I have seen within the catchment area of this site; or one of the oldest anywhere that I have visited.

On an earlier visit I saw a hand made cross leaning against a wall, possibly remembering a beloved pet. This simply read ‘Jesus loves little Bill” A beautiful thing!

This is a lovely church, set in a picturesque village. It looks as if this church is now closed to visitors, but is well worth taking a look at if you get the chance. 

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To visit the page for my visit to neighbouring Glinton, please click on the photograph above left. To visit the page for nearby Crowland Abbey, please click on the photograph above right. Each page will open up in another window.