WADENHOE : CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS

Church Post Code PE8 5ST

Usually open to visitors

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It was late April 2015, and a re-visit to the church of St Michael and All Angels, Wadenhoe, Northants. It had been an afternoon of brilliant sunshine, the bleating of sheep and the scent of oilseed rape everywhere we went. Our East Northants churchcrawl begun at Pilton, before moving on to Thorpe Achurch and then Aldwincle before taking in an evening prayer service at Wadenhoe.

    The setting here is just idyllic. This is a small church unimposing church, set on top of high ground, surrounded by trees, nestling by the side of the river Nene. On this particular Sunday, late afternoon was just turning in to evening and the shadows were just starting to lengthen, the sun was starting to dip and the colours were golden and beautiful. Sheep and lambs were grazing on the side of the hill.

A narrowboat was passing through, to the annoyance of the local ducks. Overhead a Red Kite circled looking for food. From the high ground, the view out over the Northamptonshire countryside was lovely. Setting wise, this is probably as good as it gets; this is why I do what I do!

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     Walking up the path to the church from the east, the visitor is greeted by a sundial, which was put up to celebrate the turn of the Millennium. It is possible to see five church towers and spires from the high ground where Wadenhoe church is situated. This sundial points the interested visitor in the direction of the five that can be seen.

    The church here has been a place of worship for more than 800 years. The structure that we see today dates back to the 12th century, and consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north porch and chancel. The three stage tower dates back to the late 12th century, The nave is thirteenth century, with the north arcade dating from mid way through that century, the south arcade being built a little later. The church was restored during the 18th and 19th centuries.

We were early for the service and there was a little time to look around the exterior. On the north face of the tower, low down is a triple blind arcade, which dates from the building of the tower.  A friendly local, also arriving for the service pointed me in the direction of a small figure to the west of the porch, apparently asleep, seemed cat like in appearance. A gargoyle, whose hands appear to have been replaced at some point in time, pulls open its mouth in a medieval gesture of insult.

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   The ground that this church is built on slopes away alarmingly, and the church is very heavily buttressed. In 1901 the tower was underpinned to a solid foundation. The pillars of the nave arcades were also underpinned as it was found that they stood immediately over faults in the rock.

There are six bells in the rings here, including one of the earliest examples produced by Tobias Norris I, dated 1603. When this bell was cast, Tobias would have been about 17 years old. The inscription on this bell, which was re-cast in 1937, reads   "MVLTI : VOCATI : PAVCI : ELECTI (Many are called few are chosen)   Robertvs : Ashle : Thomas : Cibble 1603  Gardiani   IA  IH". Another bell from the Stamford bell foundry, this one dated 1607 proclaimed "God Save His Chvrch" This latter bell, along with four others was recast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1937, with the first bell from Tobias Norris left untouched.

 There were a decent number of people there for the evening prayer, and they were a very friendly bunch. As is often the case, people were interested in David and my self’s cameras and invariably, people are interested in what we are doing and why we are doing it.

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The chancel was beautifully lit, but a stray ray from the setting sun caught and glistened off the cross on the altar. The east window is of two lights with the left hand panel as we look at it depicting the risen Christ, crowned with one hand raised in blessing, holding a globe. The right hand panel consists of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus, who has his hand spread wide. His hands were also spread wide in His death on the cross and I wonder if this was being symbolised to here.

The chancel is guarded by two grotesques. One pulls open its mouth in medieval gesture of insult. The other is similar but appears to have vines pulling its mouth open rather than hands. Very green man like! On the south wall of the chancel, a carving of a human skull looks out from a monument, reminding the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die.

Other stained glass here includes a depiction of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus, central commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb; Mary and Martha stand off to the left, each depicted with nimbus whilst Lazarus, also depicted with nimbus, leaves his tomb.

In another panel, Peter raises Tabitha from the dead. A part of Acts Chapter nine verse 41 is included ‘And he have her his hand and lifted her up’. A powerful scene shows Saul on the road to Damascus. Jesus appears to him in a cloud from which flames streak out, leaving Saul blinded and collapsed.

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A stone tablet in memory of Thomas and Caroline Welch Hunt, who were murdered by bandits whilst on honeymoon in 1824 can be see on the south wall of the nave, it reads  "Sacred to the memory of Thomas Welch Hunt Esq, late proprietor of the estate and manor of Wadenhoe,  and of Caroline his wife, eldest daughter of  the Revd Charles Eusby Isham,  Rector of Polebrooke in this county, who were both cruelly shot by banditti, near Poestum in Italy. On 3rd December 1824. He died on the same day, having nearly completed his 28th year. She died on the morning of the following Sunday, in the 23rd year of her age, after a union of scarcely ten months, affording an impressive and mournful instance of the instability of human happiness. Their remains are interred in one grave at Naples. They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided" Both Thomas and Caroline had portraits commissioned in 1824 and these hang in Peterborough Museum.   

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   The churchyard contains a few very ancient graves and tombs. A 17th century chest tomb on the west side of the church grounds states "Here lyeth the dead corps of William Sanderson and Ihone his wife"

. Also of interest is a grave which, although badly weathered and unreadable, would date from the late 17th century by the looks of it. This grave has on it three images of skulls, and it appears as if the grave marks the final resting place of three members of the same family. The skull was to remind the onlooker that man was mortal and would die at a time when life expectancy was low, the message being put across in symbol form as most could not read or write.

When I first started to visit and photograph churches, a dear friend who is sadly no longer with us, said that he would show me a church in one of the most attractive settings that I could wish for. He took me to Wadenhoe. A gem; a jewel in the East Northamptonshire countryside! Pre covid the church was open to visitors, and I hope that this is the situation now.

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