January 2011, and a return visit to the church of St Peter at Empingham. What a joy it is to visit here. This is a glorious area, and the church of St Peter dominates the landscape. The church is set on high ground in the centre of the town. The church was mainly built in the 13th century, with the elegant perpendicular tower and broache spire being added in the 14th century.
Alteration were undertaken here in the 15th century, at which time the roof was raised and clerestory windows replaced by larger ones. An extensive restoration took place in the 1890's.
St Peter was open and welcoming. Under an arch in the north transept there is a tomb with a carved cross on it. It is thought that this might be the final resting place of Stephen Of Sutton who ordered that he be buried in the church in 1280. There are a few wall paintings in evidence here, including one of the Virgin Mary in the south transept. There is also a repeated five leaf floral like pattern painted on to the walls in the south transept, very similar to that seen at nearby Great Casterton.
Looking up, there are carved figures of angels set in to the roof. Stained glass in the south aisle includes a representation of Simeon holding the infant Jesus, pictured below. The font is modern, Victorian by the looks of it, and no doubt dating from one of the restoration periods. The interior of this church was a delight, particularly attractive as the sun blazed in through the south windows.
The church clock is relatively modern, dating from 1895, replaced during extensive Victorian restoration. The previous clock was made by famous Stamford clock maker John Watts in 1686, and this is now in Stamford museum.
A real rarity is to be seen on the North side of the exterior of this church. There is a small carving of a woman, photograph included second from the bottom on the right, and a little internet research has seen this carving listed as a Sheela Na Gig. These are very old, usually Norman, carvings which usually feature old women holding open their Vulva. These are seen as fertility symbols. Some have suggested that they are the female equivialent of the Green Man. They are pretty rare and this is one of just two that I have seen in the churches covered by this site. The other is at Etton, on the outskirts of Peterborough.
There are an interesting set of church bells to be found here. To start with though, there is evidence to suggest that church bells were cast in the church grounds of St Peter. Occasionally, nomadic bellfounders set up shop, so to speak, as close as they could to where the bells were being hung. At the time of North's Victorian study of the church bells of Rutland, there was a ring of five bells here with all of them being cast by G Mears of London in 1859, with the existing ring being replaced at that time due to all of the existing bells being damaged.
At least three of the previous bells were cast by the Stamford bellfoundry, with three generations of the Norris family all contributing a bell each! Tobias Norris I cast a bell here in 1611, this being inscribed with the names of the donors, mother and son Ann and Thomas Mackworth. Thomas Norris cast a bell in 1661 and Tobias Norris III added another in 1697, this one being inscribed T Mitchell. One bell is simply dated 1648, and this could also have come from Thomas Norris but Thomas usually left an inscription on his bells. The other bell, definitely not from the Stamford bellfoundry, is just dated 1548.
Since the time of Norths study, a sixth bell has been added, and all the others have been re-cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1895.
Church grounds were a delight in the late afternoon winter sun, and there are some finely carved Georgian graves here, although, as with other churches in this county, many fine pieces of work have been eroded over the years.
There are some great long distance views of St Peter to be seen, both from the east and the west. With the sun starting to dip down late in the afternoon, and mist just starting to form, this was simply gorgeous. Empingham is a delightful town in a beautiful county. Regular readers will know of my love for Rutland, and as always I went home reluctantly. Well worth a look if you are in the area.