A very pleasant day out in Rutland was drawing to a close. A gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon in October 2014 was ending and the light was fading fast. We still had neighbouring Carlby and Witham On The Hill scheduled to visit following our time here but the fading daylight was to scupper those plans.
This was my second visit to the church of St Mary at Essendine, the first being during the early years of this site. I was armed then with a very basic digital camera and always wanted to return in an attempt to do it justice.
The church is just off the main road heading towards Bourne. Just a small church in a small village, but there is a wealth of history here. The church here is a simple structure of nave and chancel, with a bell cote containing two bells to the west end. It is thought that St Mary was the chapel serving Essendine castle, which stood off to nthe north, making it a building of great age and history, easy to drive by on the main road and not give it a second glance.
The church here is most notable for a tympanum doorway to the south. This features Christ in majesty, surrounded by angels, My first gut reaction upon seeing it was that it reminded me of a similar carving at nearby Castor, There are also carvings both inside and out, running from top to bottom. Some of these are now very weathered but one appears to be of Adam and Eve and a design on the inside shows two figures, one being badly disfigured, with the other appearing to be pointing towards heaven. There have been several arguments as to the date of this doorway. Some date it as far back as Saxon times, whilst some date it to 12th or 13th century and it has been suggested that the doorway was moved here from another location. Perhaps the disfiguring of the figure on the inside supports that idea.
As with most churches in Rutland, St Mary was oepn. Upon entering the eye is caught by some very fine stained glass windows. The windows are modern and Christ in majesty is in the chancel whilst a depiction of the annunciation is particularly striking. Here the archangel Gabriel, holding a lily to symbolise purity and truth, one vivid red wing outstretched, instructs the virgin Mary that she will give birth to the Christ child.
This depiction of the angel Gabriel sees him, to my mind, as being more fearsome than others that I have seen. This is surely right as, usually when an angel appears in the Bible, the first words usually spoken are 'do not be afraid'. Lovely to see the angular nature of the halos on both characters. A very lovely piece of work.
There are two bells hanging here. There is a discrepancy between what is listed on the National Church Bell Database and what was recorded by North, in his Victorian study of church bells in Rutland. According to North, both bells were dated 1808 and neither contained a founder's mark. One of the bells was inscribed Thomas Steans, the church warden of the day. However, the church bell database records that one id dated 1805, with Thomas Mears I as the founder. The second is dated 1823 and was cast by his son Thomas Mears II.
It was good to see this church again after a few years. Always good to be in Rutland and the attitude to open churches in this county is exceptional. Structures of beauty that are part of our heritage and to be enjoyed by all, not just those who worship in them on a Sunday.
We were off on our way the short distance to Carlby, in an attempt to see if we could distinguish the church amidst the gathering gloom.