It is funny the twists and turns that life can take. For many years I was heavily involved in non league football; being programme editor for Stamford AFC and then Yaxley FC. That run its course and the first Saturday that I took the cycle out photographed churches, back in September 2006, determined what I would be doing with my spare time for as many years as I could do it!
And so it came to pass, that I stood in the grounds at the church of St John The Evangelist, Ryhall, on cup final Saturday afternoon 2010, the noise of people watching the game on the TV from the local pubs; not really caring about what in the past had meant so much to me.
Ryhall is to be found at the eastern end of Rutland, close to the border with Lincolnshire. It stands against the main A6121 which runs from Stamford to Bourne. This road borders the village to the west, with the circuitous path of the river Gwash bordering the village on the other three sides.
It is said that St Tibba, a niece of King Penda of Mercia, lived in the village during the 7th century. She is the patron saint of Falconers. She was buried here, but her relics were removed to Peterborough Abbey during the 11th century. The abbey here did not become a cathedral until 1238. There is the outline of a hermitage on the north side of the church here, which is said to be associated with this saint.
The structure that we see today consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north vestry and chancel. The present structure is thought to date from the early years of the 12th century. With regards St Tibba being buried here, this would suggest that there had been a church here of some description long before that time.
This 12thcentury structure was enlarged during the 13th century, with the tower, nave, aisles and arcades all dating from that time. The impressive south porch dates from the 14th century with the chancel being rebuilt during the 15th century, at which point the clerestory windows were added. The church was restored in 1857.
The west tower is square and heavily buttressed, with the church clock set to the north face. An octagonal broach spire rises up. Today, six bells hang here. When Thomas North compiled his comprehensive study of Rutland church bells in 1880, there were five bells hanging here.
Taylor of Loughborough cast a bell here in 2003, which became the new first bell of the ring. The second of the ring today was cast by Edward Arnold of Leicester in 1790. The third of the ring is courtesy of Thomas Norris of the Stamford bell foundry. This one was cast in 1627 and is inscribed ‘Omnia Fiant Ad Gloriam Dei’ which translates as ‘Let all things be done for the glory of God’
The fourth is from the same founder, but a year earlier in 1626. This is one of Thomas’ first bells, coming in the first year of what was to be a 52 years career! This one is inscribed ‘Non Amor Sed Amor Cantat In Avre Dei’ ‘Not noise but love sounds in the ear of God’.
The fifth of the ring was cast by Mears and Stainbank in 1867. North notes that this previously had an inscription from 1720, which read ‘HIS Nazarene Rex Judaeorum fili miserere mei Omnia Fiant Ad Gloriam Dei’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth King Of The Jews Son Of God Have Mercy On Me Let All Things Be Done For The Glory Of God’ I don’t know who would have cast this bell, but it wouldn’t have been from the Stamford foundry as they had ceased to trade by that time. The sixth is another from Thomas Norris, inscribed ‘Thomas Norris Made Me 1633’.
The south porch is a two storey affair, with the upper room being called a parvise room. Often, these upper rooms were used as schoolrooms. There are a few beautiful two storey porches in Rutland. Architecturally, Langham is a fine example and historically the upper room at Stoke Cry is reputed to have been where the Gunpowder Plot was hatched, which may or may not be true.
Over to the north of the church is the outline of a single cell building. The roofline is still visible, and there is what appears to be a squint so that those inside could see the high altar. This is an anchorite cell. These were buildings in which men or women of faith could live, removing themselves from the world and its temptations; devoting their lives to prayer. These are different from hermitages; hermits lived away from the world living in isolation. Anchorite cells were often attached to churches and the anchorite themselves was subject to a religious rite which thereafter made him or her dead to the world. The anchorite tradition in churches was brought to an end during the 16th century dissolution of the monasteries.
There are a large number of carvings of beasts on the exterior; some of which are quite comical, almost cartoonlike in appearance. These are unusual in that the eyes on some appear to be set with a blue stone. I have not seen anything similar, with the exception of some at Oakham, which is not too many miles away. Fascinating that we might be able to pick up the work of the same stonemason, working on two different churches a few hundred years ago!
Amongst these is the almost obligatory mouth puller; with close by a crouching beast, which peers around a down spout, sticks out its tongue and shows a fine set of teeth.
A dog is depicted; ears covered in white lichen and a female human figure sports an impressive headdress! My favourite is a vaguely frog like figure, frowning and with bulging eyes; rolls of fat circling its face! One further exposes its buttocks to the onlooker, but in a tasteful side on fashion, rather than the full on horror of what is high up on the tower at Easton On The Hill in Northamptonshire!
Moving inside, the church was open and welcoming. I have made a few visits over the years and the only time that I had found it closed was on the first day that we could travel after the first covid lockdown. Most churches were still closed to visitors at that time.
There are three bay arcades to north and south, leading up to the 13th century chancel arch which has two commandment boards mounted to either side. Carvings of human heads keep an eye out on what is going on in the nave, including one crowned figure whose nose is missing, along with both arms; this damage possibly occurring during the reformation.
The east window of the chancel is of three lights, and is tall and elegant. All of the glass in the chancel is clear, with the result being a very bright and pleasant space! The chancel is also perpendicular, with two wall monuments of almost matching design, placed on the east wall on either side of the altar, with two light windows on the north and south walls.
A carving of a human skull can be seen on two of the monuments in the chancel; this reminding the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. The skull on the monument to the north side of the east wall is carved with wings, signifying the flight of the soul to Heaven.
There is not a great deal of stained glass here. There is however, a three light depiction of the crucifixion at the east end of the south aisle. Christ is crucified in the central panel, wearing the crown of thorns and blood running from wounds in hands, feet and side. Mary and John flank Jesus, with John immaculately robed, with golden curly hairy, and looking far from an Israeli fisherman!
There is also a modern stained glass depiction of the Baptism of Jesus, who looks directly at the onlooker before John the Baptist Baptises Him. I am really not sure of the depiction of John here. He is pretty well dressed with nicely trimmed hair and beard; not looking to be truthful as if he has lived all of his life in the wilderness.
The church grounds are interesting, without there being anything of any great rarity. An hour glass on one eighteenth century gravestone passes over the same message that the skull on the monuments inside do: Man is mortal and will die. Tempus Fugit, time flies. The sands of time have run out for the deceased and you will go the same way. Therefore, live a good Christian life and do not get caught lacking when your own time comes.
This is a lovely church in a beautiful county. Pre covid it was open to visitors and I hope that this is the situation now. A definite must visit if you are in the area,