Little Gidding may well be the smallest church in the smallest village within the churches covered in the pages of this website. But it has an interesting story attached to it and a wealth of history. More of that later.
The church here is not the easiest to find, heading out of Great Gidding, Little Gidding is about a mile to the south. Just turn right at the small lane with the post box on it. Follow the lane down to the bottom and you will find Ferrar House to your right, the church on the left...and not a lot else!
Little Gidding is a favourite place of mine to rest for a while whilst in the area
This church is set is a beautiful tranquil setting. The only noise is from the birds. The church here is only used for occasional services, but it is open and wlecoming, and there are usually a few visitors looking around, such is the story behind it.
Nicholas Ferrar was the son of a London merchant and he succeeded his elder brother John as company director, handling the day to day running of the business. Financial problems in 1624 led to John being made bankrupt and to the family having a rethink on life. They felt that they should renounce worldliness and live a life of godliness instead.
Nicholas and John's widowed mother bought the manor of Little Gidding as part of a deal to rescue John from his bankruptcey and the whole family, which numbered some 40 people in total, moved to Little Gidding in 1625, their move being hastened by an outbreak of plague in London in that year.
When the Ferrars arrived, the house that they were to live in needed extensive repair, and so did the church, which was being used as a barn. The village at that time was near deserted to a previous outbreak of the plague. The church was rebuilt and the Ferrars started their lifestyle of godliness, living their Anglican lifestyle on High Church principles and using the Book Of Common Prayer. The family were particularly noted for their prayer, they always had someone at prayer, all day every day. They tended to the health and education of local children, and Nicholas and his family produced harmonies of the gospels that survive today as some of the finest in Britain. Nicholas Ferrar died on 4th December 1637, but the family continued their way of life without him, and the religious life only ended in 1657 on the deaths, within a month, of John Ferrar and Susanna Collett.
The fame of the household was widespread, and they attracted visitors. King Charles I visited Little Gidding three times, including on 2 May 1646 seeking refuge after the Battle of Naseby. The year after Parliamentary soldiers ransacked the house and church and the Ferrars were forced to flee for a while.
Another famous visitor in more modern times was poet TS Elliott, who visited in May 1936. Elliott produced a series of poems entitled "Four Quartets" one of these poems being called "Little Gidding".
This church used to have a tower, but this was demolished many years ago. What we have here is a west end rebuilt in the early 18th century. The entrance to the church is through here and there is an inscription over the door which says..."This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven".
The table tomb of Nicholas Ferrar can be seen close to the west end of the church. Slabs surround the tomb and lead to the entrance, it is suggested that these might be gravestones to other members of the Ferrar family. A single bell hangs in a niche over the doorway. This comes from an unnamed 17th century foundry. Once inside, we just have a basic nave and chancel.
Inside is a delight! It is so narrow inside here that the pews go along the walls rather than go across the width of the nave. Lots of stained glass here, with some of it being very old. A window on the north side depicts the Ferrar coat of arms whilst a panel at the bottom of this window records the passing of Nicholas Ferrar in December 1637.
Another stained glass window dates from 1646 and features the coat of arms of Bishop Williams of Lincoln, who was a friend of the Ferrar family. Another window features the coat of arms of Charles I. A more modern window dates from 1853, and depicts the coat of arms of the Hopkinson family, William Hopkinson being the man responsible for Victorian restoration of this church.
The Eagle Lectern is interesting. This is Flemish and dates from the 17th century. In 1647 the church was sacked by Paliamentary soldiers and the lectern was thrown in to nearby woods. Eagle lecterns are commonplace. The Eagle is mentioned many times in the bible, in fact no fewer than 29 times in total according to Bible Gateway website!! What makes this one different from most is the fact that there are carvings of animals going around the base of the lectern. Interesting, but not unique as there are a few similar ones in Norfolk. A lovely piece of work.
Out in the church grounds a helpful sign advises visitors to watch their feet due to rabbit holes. "T.S" signed his initials on to the south wall in 1849. There are a few gravestones in the well tended grounds, but not many, but then again there are not many people here. The census for 1971 showed a population of 17! On the west side, the church grounds lead down to thick undergrowth.
There is an air of calm about this place. This is a place to just sit and be at peace. I have a great love for all of the churches within the catchment area of this site. But there is something about this place that sets it apart from the rest. Other people that I have spoken to have said the same. I felt the same when I visited the shrine at Walsingham in Norfolk.
There are very few services held here these days. There is, however, a yearly walk of worship which ends at Little Gidding church. This is done in remembrance of the Ferrars and prayers are said over the grave of Nicholas Ferrar. A special place, and a place to be treasured.