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Benefield, Hemington & Fotheringhay (Northants)

The Stonemasons and their World

Stoneleigh-in-Arden (Warwickshire)

Garway (Herefordshire) - rewritten

Tansor (Northamptonshire)

New Romsey (Kent)

Apethorpe (Northamptonshire)

East Shefford (Berkshire)

Great Shefford (Berkshire)

Welford (Berkshire)

Pennington (Cumbria)

Worth Matravers (Dorset)


Dedication : St Mary          Simon Jenkins: ****                                                      Principal Features : Norman Crypt.

Like Castor in Cambridgeshire, Lastingham has its origins in the religious forment that was taking place in c7 Northumbria. A monastery was founded here in AD 654, ten years before the Synod of Whitby that adopted the Roman model of Christianity in preference to the Celtic. Lastingham was founded by St Cedd - it seems that every C7 churchman in Northumbria became a saint! - as an outpost of St Aidan’s  famous monastery of Lindisfarne. Pre-dating the Synod, it was a Celtic establishment. St Cedd was succeeded only a year later by his brother, St Chad. St Cedd, in the meantime founded Bradwell Abbey in Essex and went on to be an interpreter at the Synod.

The monastery would have been built of wood rather than stone. It is known that the first stone church was built here in AD 725 but it is not known how much damage was done by the inevitable Viking attacks.

The present church dates back to 1078 when it was re-founded as a Benedictine Abbey by Stephen of Whitby. The crypt dates from this period. For reasons unknown, Stephen abandoned the work in 1088 after which the church remained derelict and without a nave until 1228! The church guide speculates that William the Conqueror’s “Harrying of the North” at this time may have caused the abandonment through labour shortages.

The apse and chancel arch date from the 1078 work, as do some of the nave

 pillars. The north aisle is C13 and the south aisle is C14. The perpendicular  tower is C15. A great deal of restoration was carried out in 1620, 1834 and 1879. The unusual vaulted roof dates from 1879.

It is, however, the wonderful Norman crypt that enthrals. It is almost unique in being apsidal. It was almost certainly the first thing that Stephen of Whitby built and was dedicated to St Cedd. It has a chancel, aisles and an apse which is most extraordinary. The pillars are very low but extremely thick, giving the whole place an enclosed yet sanctified atmosphere . This is a crypt such as troglodytes might build!

Left: Interior view looking towards the apse. The apse is very open compared with the rather cell-like ones at places like Kilpeck and Iffley, but of course this is a much bigger church. There is a welcome lack of whitewash and despite the renovations over the centuries, there is a pleasing symmetry and uniformity about the place, the comparatively modern stone roof adding rather than detracting from it. I guess the “angel” is not to everyone’s taste, but I rather liked it! Right: A section of the vaulted roof, also showing Norman-style - but modern -  clerestory windows.

Left: Lastingham is a 3-cell church. Between the nave and the apse is an intermediate “presbytery” that was part of the original c11 church. The windows are similar to those in the apse: with two orders, the outer one having miniature shafts and capitals. they were restored in c19. Centre: The apse is part of the original 1078 building. The arch to the presbytery is modern. Trefoil-shaped piscina and sedilia are cut into the walls on the south side. Right: The arch to the c15 tower,

The Crypt

From this view the squatness of the columns is very obvious. Note also the small windows to left and right at the end of the crypt’s “aisles”.

The sanctuary.

This form of capital is known as “Ionic” and is one of the classical forms of architecture found in ancient Greece and Rome. In this case supported by an acanthus leaf-like decoration.

Another ionic capital, this time supported by a crude pattern of interlaced arches similar to the “blind arcading” found in many Norman churches.

The apse. Just discernible in the centre at ground level partly obscured by a gravestone is a small window to the crypt.

The crypt window. The glass is, of course, modern but the hefty stone surround and splay show that this was part of the 1078 church.

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