SAWTRY : CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS

Church Post Code PE28 5RD

Normally Closed to Visitors

This page also looks at the graveyard of the church of St Andrew.

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It was sad when the original Peterborough Churchcrawler site folded in December 2021 after the host ceased to trade. It did give me the chance though to get out and reshoot several churches; relaunching this new site with new photos and a revised history.

I had intended to do that for the page to All Saints at Sawtry’ However, pressure of work and an attack of covid, with subsequent fatigue, meant that the cycle stayed in storage and I have revised the page here instead with photographs taken on a glorious summer Sunday afternoon in 2014.

    Sawtry is one of the largest villages that I am covering in this site, recording a population of around 6,500 in 2021. It can be found close to the A1(M) some seven miles north of Huntingdon, making this one of the most southerly churches covered by this site.

    This village has a rich and varied history, going back to Roman times. The village was mentioned at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, the village at that time divided in to four manors with three churches and two priests recorded at that time.

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   In medieval times, Sawtry was divided in to three different parishes. These were Sawtry All Saints, Sawtry St Andrew and Sawtry St Judith.  In 1147 Simon De Senlis formed a Cistercian Abbey here, dedicated to St Mary.   In 1536, after her death, Catherine of Aragon, divorced wife of Henry VIII, was laid overnight in Sawtry Abbey on her way to her final resting place at Peterborough Cathedral. Shortly after this, St Mary was demolished during the dissolution of the monasteries.

There had been no church in the parish of St Judith since the 16th century, with the churches in the other two parishes being pulled down in 1879, with a new church of All Saints being built to cover the village, the three parishes converted in to one, with the new church being built on the site of the old All Saints.

The church that we see today stands in a quiet, peaceful lane, away from the shops; and consists of a basic structure of nave and chancel, with north aisle and north chapel. There is no tower, just a bellcote with a single bell at the west end. There is no clerestory and entrance is through a south door. A carving of a lion and a pig look out from the west end. The lion is the symbol associated with St Mark, the pig I am struggling with to be honest!

Looking around the exterior I was interested to see some graffiti; just initials with none of them dated. Interestingly, some of the initials were upside down, which left me wondering if the new structure had possibly been put together with blocks from the old church, with windows to the north and west also looking to have been reset from the original church.

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According to the National Church Bell Databse the single bell hanging here was cast by the London Foundry in or around 1320. According to Owens Victorian look at Church Bells of Huntingdonshire, which was published in 1899, the present bell here is one of two that rang at the old All Saints. The other was sold and hung at a school in Peterborough. According to the same book, the single bell at St Peter was sold to a church in Ludlow in Cheshire

A small plaque indicates that a collection of worked stone, gathered together at the west end, came from the demolished abbey. It was a warm summer afternoon, the air was humid and I enjoyed the sun on my back while David popped off to get the key from a friend of his.

Moving inside, it became evident quite quickly that; even this is a Victorian church; it has retained elements of the church or churches which went before it. It was bright and welcoming inside, with the sun blazing in through the south windows; no need of clerestory windows today!

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The nave walls are whitewashed; the Victorian pews leading to the tall pointed chancel arch. The north aisle is of four bays, with a few human heads looking out; including what could be a monk and a King with impressive facial hair! The chancel is plain and simple; the three light east window being of clear glass. The altar has a couple of candlesticks on it only with a cross standing on a ledge on the east wall. Depictions of the Holy Spirit in the form of doves appear to either side of the altar.

There are two bays on the north wall of the chancel, leading in to the north chapel, with these along with the piscina and sedilia looking to have come from the previous church.

There are several items internally that pre date the present church. A wall plaque to one Mary Newton, who died in 1633 reads ‘I am dead and my life is hid with Christ in God  When Christ who is my life shall appeare then shall I also appeare with him in glory’

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Most of the stained glass to be found here is medieval, but there is a Victorian stained glass depiction in the north chapel. This shows Jesus; arms spread wide in welcome, with a small boy approaching Jesus whilst a young woman kneels in worship.

I was interested here though in an adult male character to the left of Jesus as we look at it; who appears to be admonishing Jesus. This could be a Pharisee and it is interesting to see that this character is portrayed with his eyes covered; perhaps indicating to the onlooker that this man is blind in his outlook...or I may just be reading far too much in to things! Either may well be valid!

   There are some beautiful medieval brasses on the interior of the south wall. Two figures, Sir William Le Moyne and his wife Maria stand side by side, as they have done since 1404. Sir William is in full armour, including spurs. Behind Sir William is a figure of a monk holding a flagella, a whip which the flagellants used to whip themselves in a public display of penance during the black death of the mid 14th century.

At Sir William's feet is a lion, and looking up at the lion, at Maria's feet, is a small dog. These are each often used symbols, with the lion symbolising strength and courage, with the dog used as a symbol of loyalty. This brass was previously situated on an altar tomb which was situated in the chancel of the previous church.

   Fragments of medieval stained glass can be seen along the south wall.  A helpful plaque informs the onlooker that these used to be found at the manor house of Sawtry St Andrew, and were donated to the church in 1905.

One window contains a series of putti, nearly naked male children, two of whom are to be seen carrying a cross. Close by a lion and horse stand facing each other, each on hind legs, with each looking at the onlooker. There is also a collection of human heads, some with golden flowing hair; others wearing headdresses. As always when looking at medieval glass fragments, it is a case of wondering what things would have looked like in pre reformation days, before such things were smashed as being idolatrous.

When looking at fragments such as we see here, it is always worth looking closely at the small pieces salvaged. In the bottom left hand corner of one panel, underneath the putti, is a wild eyes figure with a single surviving horn, which could be a depiction of the devil.

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    Even though this is a Victorian church, as mentioned earlier the church is situated on the site of the previous All Saints. For that reason there are a few gravestones to be found here which pre date the church. To all intents and purposes though there looks to have been a pretty thorough clearance of gravestones at the time that the new church was built.

One gravestone can be seen standing upside down, two angels heads now looking out upside down from the bottom. The script here is unreadable but it looks to be possibly mid 18th century.

It was also good to see a depiction of an ouroboros, a serpent with its tail in its mouth. This was an often used symbol for eternity but it is not a symbol that we see many examples of in the churches around Peterborough. This ouroboros is quite faded, but has what appears to be a human bone through it. The bone is a symbol of the mortality of Man. Here we have two contrasting symbols; symbols of death and eternity. This could be seen as a testimony as to the faith of the deceased and a warning to those looking on who could be found wanting when their own time came!

The Graveyard of St Andrew

With regards the church of St Andrew, which was demolished in Victorian times, the graveyard is still there, across on the other side of the A1 (M), just to the east of the Old Great North Road. There is a modern cemetery to the side of this.  At one point, when I first visited Sawtry, there was a Friends of St Andrew group which was looking after the site. I am not sure what the case is now as the last time that I visited it was pretty overgrown and unsafe underfoot. The situation may be different today.

There is a fine selection of stones to be seen here, including one badly damaged slate gravestone from the 18th century commemorating James Ratford of Leicester who was killed in a duel with his friend in June 1756. The top of the stone is gone, but the script is intact and reads ‘Near to this stone who ere thou are draw near In pity drop one pious friendly tear Far from his native home he lost his life by one who seem’d his friend Ill times strife The best of husbands to his children dear Courteous to all and to his friend sincere Remorseless fate well may the wretch feel woe while he is endless bliss and pleasure shall go’.

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    One stone in particular is a superb example, and rich in symbolism. An image of the deceased, on his bed bed, is being looked down on by two angels. On either side of the deceased is a cherub, standing on top of a column and each holds an upturned torch.  In gravestone symbolism, an upturned torch indicates eternity, a downturned torch symbolises death and mourning. Underneath the cherub on the left hand side is a human skull and crossed bones, whilst an hourglass appears underneath the cherub opposite. Both of these are images that represent the Mortality of man. Basically, in image form, what they are showing to the onlooker is that they will go the same way as the deceased; so be sure to live a good Christian life, as in days of low life expectancy, your own time could come quicker than you might expect!

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If you would like to see the pages for my visits to Sawtry's neighbours then please click on the photographs above. Click on the photograph above left to be directed to the church of St Giles, Holme. Click above centre be be taken to All Saints, Conington. If you wish to see the church of St John, Little Gidding, please click on the photograph above right. These pages willopen up in another window.