WARMINGTON : CHURCH OF ST MARY
Church Post Code PE8 6TE
The church is usually open to visitors
Warmington is a pleasant village to be found some ten miles west of Peterborough and two and a half miles east of Oundle, just over the border in to Northamptonshire. It has an important neighbour in Fotheringhay, and its associations with Richard III and Mary Queen of Scots, which is a short distance away to the north.
The church of St Mary the Blessed Virgin, sits in the centre of the village, a scattering of old cottages close by, and is a familiar landmark at the side of the main A605 which bypasses the village.
Despite the fact that Warmington is in Northamptonshire, the church here was included as part of a Cambridgeshire Historic Churches tour day in the summer of 2014. We had started off at Elton in Cambridgeshire, visiting church and chapel before, passports in hand, we crossed over the border.
It is thought that there was a smaller church on this site as far back as 963AD. Most of the present structure was built in between the years 1180 and 1280. Some rebuilding was undertaken in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 16th century, buttresses were added to the chancel walls, which had started to lean outwards.
There were two periods of Victorian restoration, in 1850 and 1876, with the latter having the involvement of George G Scott.
The structure that we see today consists of west tower with spire, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel. The west tower is of four stages, and is perpendicular. There is a fine, ornate west doorway, which has an inner trefoil arch. Above this doorway is an empty image niche and above that the church clock, which is enclosed within a roundel. A similar roundel of the south faces encloses a guatrefoil design.
When North compiled his mid Victorian look at the church bells of Northamptonshire there were five bells hanging here. Three of these were cast by the Norris family, who had premises in Stamford. Tobias Norris I was just eighteen years old when he re-cast an earlier bell in 1604. Tobias Norris III added two more in 1669 and 1670. Celebrated local bellfounder Henry Penn, of whom there is a street named in Peterborough, cast a bell here in 1710. This is inscribed with the names Will Drake and Tho Henson, the church wardens of the day.
The fifth bell is not attributed to a founder and has the Latin inscription 'Vitam Metior Mortem Ploru' which translates as 'I Measure Life, I Weep on Death'. A quick look at the National Church Bell Database today shows that there are now six bells here. Two of the bells from the Norris family are still as they were in North's day, as is the one from Henry Penn. Of the others, two were re-cast by Mears and Stainbank in 1876, with one new one being added in 1912.
I have never been to this church and found it closed, included a visit during covid when we were allowed to travel. An open church can be an important Christian witness, especially in challenging times! The church open sign was out and I headed inside.
This is a big, impressive church! The north and south arcades are each of five bays, and the nave and chancel are serrated by a wooden chancel screen. Carvings of human heads look out over the nave.
The nave has a very beautiful ribbed ceiling which dates from the thirteenth century, a series of ceiling bosses; nine in total, run the length of the nave. These feature green men type images, with grotesque heads and foliage designs. These are considered to be one of the finest collections of Green Men in England. My photographs do not do them justice!
Moving in to the chancel, the altar is plain and simple; just a cross and a couple of candlesticks. A wooden reredos looks to be from one of the Victorian restorations. Of considerably more age is a plain chest tomb to the north of the chancel.
The east window is of five lights, with two levels of stained glass; ten panels all depicting the Virgin Mary. The upper level has Mary holding the baby Jesus as the central design. To the left as we look at it is the annunciation, followed by Mary meeting Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. To the right of the central panel is Jesus being presented at the temple to Simeon. To the far right as we look at it, Jesus as a child teaches in the synagogue; Mary the Joseph visible through a window, she with her hands at prayer, as they rush to find their child.
The panels of the lower tier are all concerned with Jesus’ adult life. The central panel is the crucifixion. To the far left as we look at it, Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet, hand at prayer, as He performs His first miracle, turning water in to wine at the wedding at Cana. Following that Mary kneels in front of Jesus again; this time as He carries His cross on the way to be crucified.
The next panel shows Mary with John, Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea as Jesus’ body id made ready for burial. Far right at the bottom shows Mary with the Disciples on the day of Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit descends.
A depiction of the resurrection can be seen to the south wall of the chancel. Jesus has emerged from the tomb, dressed in white, wounds visible on hands and the one foot that we can see. Peter kneels, one hand on John’s shoulder, with two very substantial keys to the Kingdom of Heaven attached to his belt. Delightful depictions of angels with brightly coloured peacocks wings look on, including one which sits on the empty tomb.
The brightly coloured pulpit has been restored and includes a depiction of Jesus, hands raised in blessing, wounds visible with blood flowing freely from them. He is standing on a globe, damage inflicted by the reformers of the 16th century still visible. There is also damaged visible on other panels but compared to some this damage is minimal.
The font is octagonal and of considerable age, the base of the font is more modern with a date of 1662 carved in to it.
The church grounds are well maintained, and there appears to have been a fairly substantial gravestone clearance here at some point in time. There is a war memorial to the south east corner and the remains of a medieval churchyard cross to the north east of the chancel.
A grieving widow gravestone depicts the wife of the deceased in mourning, with a human skull placed on top of a coffin over to the right. A message to those looking on that Man is mortal and the onlooker will go the way of the deceased.
There some very good long range shots of the church to be seen from high ground to the south east of the village. These can be particularly attractive during the autumn as the mist starts to form. This is a beautiful, historic church and one that is open and welcoming. An absolute gem!