Easter Sepulchres were swept away in Edward VI’s protestant Church although some survived to be briefly used again during Mary I’s Catholic revival. The survival of this magnificence at Hawton was down to the fact that it was hidden under layers of plaster and whitewash until it was rediscovered in the 1843-4 restoration. Its significance can be measured by the fact that a plaster copy of the entire triple composition on the north wall was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Sadly, the sepulchre did not escape the iconoclasts altogether before it was hidden. As at Heckington, both sepulchre and sedilia surprise the observer by being decorated with pagan and satirical carvings as well, of course, with the expected Christian imagery. No church better illustrates the robust self-confidence of the fourteenth and fifteenth century mediaeval church and its masons than such carvings should appear in the holiest part of the church. All this just fifty years after the end of the Early English period when, for reasons we can’t fathom, decorative carving had entered an extended hiatus.
Hawton seems to have weathered the Reformation well. Its fifteenth century oak rood screen – but not, of course, the rood itself - is still in-situ.
The rest of the church is also fine, but it is difficult to tear yourself away from the chancel. The north aisle is also thirteenth century and manages to surprise by having a little course of dogtooth moulding around each of its arches in a somewhat roguish nod to Romanesque style.
Little attention is paid in other literature I have seen to the west doorway. This door, in my view, would attract considerable admiration had it not been overshadowed by that chancel. An arched door fits within a rectangular doorway. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, Pevsner dates it to the fourteenth century despite the west tower being having been built in 1482 by Sir Thomas Molyneaux of Hawton.
The door has unusually elaborate ironwork that is reminiscent of the tracery of a Decorated style window and that perhaps was what deluded Pevsner. He overlooked, however, both the splendid carving within the spandrels between the door and the rectangular doorway and the unusual wood carving on the door itself, attached by big square-headed iron nails that you would like to think are original. The Maltese Cross motif is a characteristic of the Molyneaux arms down the centuries and there are stylised “M” monograms on the door. Interestingly, however, the spandrels also show a king’s head and a Tudor rose. Who is the king? It must surely be Henry VII who reigned from 1485-1509. He was the first Tudor king and the start of his reign nearly coincides with the supposed building date of the tower. Sir Thomas was surely paying judicious tribute to the new ruling house. One imagines that carving Tudor roses during the reign of Richard III would have been suicidal. Pevsner got this doorway completely wrong, I am afraid; although, to be fair, he didn’t have my access to the internet!
The quality of the carving in this church is extraordinary; some of the finest you will see in any parish church in England. It is unfortunate that the iconoclasts took their hammers to some of the images. That suggests that the protection of what remained under layers of plaster was a work of desperation by the churchwardens of the time.