THURNING : CHURCH OF ST JAMES.

Church Post Code PE8 5RF

Usually closed to visitors.

I find it amusing that whenever an animal is included in one of my church photographs on my Facebook page the number of views increases. Post up an exterior photograph of church and it will get ‘x’ number of hits. Have a cat in front of the church and the viewing figures will sometimes nearly double! Amusing, but also slightly dispiriting, given that I have been promoting the beauty of the Anglican parish CHURCH since 2006!

One of the animals that causes more comments than any other are chickens, with one dear friend of my Facebook page from America always commenting when she sees chickens posted up.  There were certainly plenty of chickens to be seen when I first visited the church of St James back in 2007.  They weren’t in the church grounds but were contentedly pecking around the outside of the churchyard wall; a home made sign saying ‘Chicken Crossing’ alerting passing motorists.

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There is a delightful rural feel to the village here, with two people leading a horse up the middle of the main road past the church on a subsequent visit. I have always found this to be a very pleasant friendly village.

Thurning is a small village in East Northamptonshire, which had a population of 93 at the time of the 2001 census. The population was recorded in with neighbouring Luddington and Hemington at the time of the 2011 census, with the total population of the three being 257.

This is the home of the Thurning Feast, which was celebrated, at least in pre covid times, in a field close to the church, on July 25th each year; this being the feast day of St James after who the church is dedicated.

St James is set against the main road which runs through the village. I had cycled in from the east, from Luddington, on this sunny and blustery late February afternoon in 2022; the road to Barnwell heading off to the North West, where my days churchcrawl was to end. It stands on slightly high ground, with the top of the churchyard wall being at grass level, allowing an uninterrupted view across the church grounds.

 St James is the patron Saint of Christian Pilgrims and there is a scallop shell to be seen on the gate, this being a symbol associated with this saint.

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The church that we see today dates back to the 12th century, with work ongoing to the 14th century. The west end and the small spire were rebuilt in 1880 by Carpenter and Igelow who also restored the chancel at Luddington in the Brook five years previously.

The structure consists of west spire, which rises up from the west end of the nave, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north chapel and chancel. There is a circular stair turret with conical top rising up from the north aisle, which leads up to an organ loft. Entrance to the church itself is via a north doorway.

Thurning must have changed counties over the years. I looked for the village’s entry in North’s study of Northamptonshire church bells, but there was nothing listed. It did turn up though in Owen’s look at the church bells of Huntingdonshire, which was published in 1899.

The situation in Owen’s day was that two bells were hanging here’ or more precisely one bell was hanging with the other being cracked and unhung. It was the first of the ring that was cracked, with this one being inscribed ‘Dei Genitrix Ir Maria Ora Pro’ which translates as ‘Mary Mother of God Pray for us’. This bell was recast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1898, just before Owen’s work was published.

The second of the ring is classed as being from an unknown founder by the National Church Bell Register. Owen though suggests that this bell is likely to be pre reformation and coming from a Leicester founder, which in all likelihood would be Newcombe’s foundry. This bell has four sets of what could be initials of those who paid for this bell.

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It had been arranged that the church would be left open for me, which was appreciated very much. Moving inside, the visitor’s attention is immediately taken by the organ loft over the chancel arch. On a previous visit, some of the pipes had been taken down, giving a glimpse of what lay behind; a statue of the angel Gabriel, part of an annunciation scene.

A screen separates nave from chancel, with a carving of the crucifixion scene on top of the screen, just underneath the semi circular chancel arch.

Moving in to the chancel, there were beautiful multi coloured reflections cast through the stained glass on to the north wall. There are a series of very nicely carved human heads in the chancel; with one of these having a receding hairline and moustache; his nose being tampered with which may well be a sign of damage during the reformation.

Interestingly, one block is left uncarved, showing what the original blocks of stone would have been like prior to carving. There is a very small and delightful north chapel.

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The east window is of four lights and depicts the Last Supper, The Resurrection, the Ascension and what I think is Jesus with the disciples at Emmaus. In the Last Supper panel, Jesus, holding the bread and with hand raised in blessing, is depicted with six disciples, with John leaning in against his Lord.

The risen Christ stands in majesty in the second panel, holding a cross, hand raised in blessing with radiant light shining out from Him. Angels below are still in the process of lifting the tomb lid whilst one Roman soldier sleeps whilst another stirs!

In the ascension panel, Jesus stands on the clouds, arms spread wide with disciples below.  With regards the fourth panel, this is post crucifixion, with Jesus’ wounds visible. The risen Christ stands with two men, with a lady below. I can’t think what this is except those that he met on the road to Emmaus; but I don’t know where the lady fits in as, unless I am missing something, she is not a part of this particular story.

Other stained glass here includes a two light window of the annunciation with the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, both accompanied by lilies as symbols of purity. Interestingly, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove can be seen above Gabriel with a cross in its mouth.

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The north arcade here dates from 1200, with the south arcade dating from around 1300. The semi circular chancel arch dates back to the 12th century.  The tower arch is much more recent, dating from the time of the Victorian rebuilding. More stone heads can be seen higher up in the nave, including one strange angular figure, with piercing eyes and a hairstyle reminiscent of church Zoom meeting throughout the pandemic!

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Moving back outside, it was interesting to see the date of 1654 being carved in to one of the walls, with the figure ‘4’ being carved the wrong way around. There are some finely carved gravestones to be seen here, without there being anything of great importance or rarity.

An eighteenth century stone to one Mary Neall has the following inscription ‘She who lies here was in her life a loving mother and a tender wife, A good neighbour to the poor a friend Happy is she that such a life should end’. This epitaph was not written especially for the deceased as the same lines of verse can be seen elsewhere, particularly when the main material for the gravestones is slate, which is easily carved and weathers well. I am sure that this charming epitaph fitted her though!

Close by is a depiction of a grieving widow, head in hands as she mourns against a funeral urn of her deceased husband. The Holy Spirit is represented on another stone by a dove, with streams of light flooding from it.

This is a lovely church, with warm friendly people and I have enjoyed my time here on each occasion that I have visited. That was church number five completed, and I aimed onwards towards Barnwell where I was to complete all of the churches in the Brookfields Benefice. Please note that the two photographs immediately below were taken on a previous visit.

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