GREAT CASTERTON.   CHURCH : ST PETER & ST PAUL.

   In 1820, "Peasant Poet" John Clare, who lived in the village for a short time, was married to Martha Turner in this church. Famous visitors to the village include Charles Wesley, who later complained in his diary that a creaking inn sign kept him awake! Another famous (or perhaps I should say infamous) visitor was the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.

    It seems that there was a church here in the 11th century as a priest was mentioned at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. In the 12th century, the church here was a simple construction of an aisleless nave and a chancel. Most of the present structure here was built in the 13th century, being added to that earlier structure. Around 1250 a north aisle was added with a south aisle following shortly after. The nave was also extended at this time, with the clerestory and porch also being added. It is suggested that the work here took around 40 years to complete.

    There was originally a bell cote at the west end of the church but this was taken down in the 15th century, being replaced by the elegant tower that we see today. The pinnacled tower, complete with small and very well carved gargoyles at each corner, is home to a ring of six bells. Five of these were cast by Peterborough bellfounder Henry Penn in 1718, with none of the five being inscribed at all. All of the bells were restored by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1990, and they cast another bell as well, making for the ring of six that hangs here today.

   Other things worthy of mention on the exterior is an effigy of a bearded man in a niche on the east exterior wall, who is carrying a book in one hand and what appears to be a small bag in the other. Some have suggested that this is a representation of St Matthew, whilst others claim that it is St Peter. Just to the right of the porch is a arch containing a very badly worn recumbent figure at prayer.

    As with many in the area, the church here is kept open for visitors. It is lovely inside with the limewashed walls and sun streaming in through the south windows making the interior bright and welcoming. I have to say that the people here also make the place welcoming. Very friendly folk!

    The font dates from the late 12th or early 13th century and has an unusual design of diagonal lines. The wooden font cover is more modern and is dedicated to a former Rector who was here in the 1860's and 1870's. I was interested to see some wall painting here. This takes the shape of a repeated pattern of five leaf flowers, and is very similar to that seen at nearby Empingham.

    On the south aisle wall is a recess containing an effigy of a priest, clothed in Eucharist vestments with hands raised in prayer. A lovely piece of work. A coat of arms at the west end of the interior, is surrounded by the instruction to the faithful "Fear God Honour ye king". Stained glass in the chancel includes a depiction of Jesus holding a lamb.

    The church grounds are well maintained and there are many very well preserved and well carved Georgian gravestones on display. In amongst the usual cherubs there is one stone that is of particular note. This had me puzzled until I asked the Revd Philip Street of Great Casterton church. He told me that the picture second from the bottom on the left of this page is a depiction from the Old Testament, the book of Genesis Chapter 22 verses 1 - 18. In this, the LORD tests Abraham's faithfulness by asking him to sacrifice his own son. As Abraham was about to do this, the LORD said not to harm the boy, and a Ram was provided instead to sacrifice. In the carving Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, with a ram to the right of him. You might notice a hand pointing down from heaven through the clouds. A lovely piece of work. Not unique, but very unusual.

    Elsewhere, at the foot of a double grave, a hauman skull, with crossed bones, reminds the onlooker that man is mortal and will die. Close by a tired cherub, eyes closed and wings drawn in, is at rest. If visiting here, don't forget to visit nearby Tickencote, with its fabulous chancel arch.

Great Casterton font Great Casterton Stained Glass

Summer 2014 and a return trip to the church of St Peter and St Paul at Great Casterton. This church is a familiar landmark a mile or so along the main road leading out of Stamford, with the church standing on the south end of the village. There is a great deal of history in this area, with Great Casterton being situated close to a major Roman road, namely Ermine Street. There was a Roman Fort here as early as 44 AD.

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