December 2013 and a return visit to the church of St Peter at Yaxley. This was a return visit, with my previous time there coming a few days aftera blizzard in February 2009, which left most of the UK under several inches of snow. It was so cold that day that icicles several inches long were hanging from the gargoyles on the tower. The conditions on my return were glorious. Hardly a cloud in the sky and the light conditions were wonderful.
The church here was mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086. It is thought that north and south transepts were added in the middle of the 13th century and that in the last decade of that century, the remainder of the church was rebuilt and enlarged. Towards the middle of the 15th century, the west tower and spire were built, replacing an earlier central tower, and the clearstory was added. About the same time the porch was rebuilt.
The chancel, with its side chapels, was restored in 1902 to 1903, and the nave in 1904. The north transept and aisles were restored in 1908, and the south transept, aisle and west tower and spire in 1909 to 1910.
Peterborough bellfounder Henry Penn cast a ring of five bells here in 1721, with four of these seeming to be recastings of existing bells. Three of these five still hang whilst the other two were re-cast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1881. That same year Taylor also cast a new bell, bringing the ring up to six.
Fragments of wall paintings can be seen in the west end of the nave. These are in poor condition, but what can be seen still is an archer and the top part of a skeleton, with a tiny fragment of a gravedigger just discernible on the opposite side. In the north wall of the north transept is a projecting stone with sunk panel having a pointed head and two arms holding a heart; a cylindrical wooden box containing a heart was found behind this stone in 1842, and is now preserved in a modern recess near it; the heart is supposed to have been that of William de Yaxley, Abbot of Thorney, who founded a chantry here in 1291, and died in 1293.
Plenty of stained glass here, imcluding some impressive modern looking glass in the chancel. My attention though was drawn to a small window featuring a depiction of St Peter. This is in poor repair and the glass panels are unusual in that they are just painted! I would think that this dates from the 18th century, a time when the art of stained glass was at a low ebb.
On the exterior wall on the West side of the church there are musket shot marks. It is said that these were made by Cromwell's troops, but it is more likely that they were caused by Tudor or Stuart local militia, whose arms were then stored at the base of the church tower.
And talking of Cromwell's troops. They are said, in 1643, to have baptised a foal in the 12th century font! Figures of a dog and a lion can be found over the porch. In design these remind me the carvings at the top of the tower at nearby Glatton whilst carvings of a chained bear and a crocodile can be found on the East side. There are plenty of gargoyles and grotesques dotted around the church. Several are broken and others very worn. One gargoyle high up on the tower has what appears to be a long flowing beard and a mouth full of sharp teeth, but is sadly missing the top of his head. The oldest gargoyles can be found around the tower, and are thought to date from around 1500, several appear to be relatively modern.
The church grounds are well maintained and are very interesting. Several graves contain symbols of Man's Mortality with human skull, cross bones and hourglass all to be found on gravestones to the south of the nave. These are common enough but slightly more unusual in this area are depictions of the gravediggers tools of pick and shovel which are faded but still discernible on one grave.
On the outside of the chancel, a depressed looking cherub sits with flaming torch pointed downwards symbolising mourning.
On this return visit to St Peter, the church was open for its Christmas gala. Lots of people around and there was a lovely buzz on entering. I have worshiped here a few times and it was good to see a few familiar faces again. It was good to catch up with the church worship band as they played carols in Peterborough on Christmas eve.
This is well worth a visit, but the church is normally to be found locked unless a service is on.