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Rutland has some very fine churches indeed, and almost every parish church has something of interest, so do check them out while you’re in the area. You may be surprised to know that the Church of England is responsible for about 45% of ALL Britain’s Grade 1 Listed buildings. The Government makes no contribution towards the maintenance of these very beautiful buildings and nor (as such) does the Church of England: the legal and financial burden of caring for the country churches in Rutland falls on the villagers themselves, through the entity of each Parochial Church Council.

EXTON – Saint Peter & Saint Paul. Set apart from the village itself, in the Park of the Exton estate. While there was undoubtedly a church on the site from the 13th century, most of the architecture that so appeals today is 14th century, with some very necessary repairs in the 19th century after lightning/storm damage.  As you’d expect in an estate village with rich patrons, the church is large and light, with a beautiful flagged floor, heraldic banners for the various members of the Noel family and – what the church is famous for – several superb pale alabaster and marble monuments from the 16th, 17th and 18th century. They include carvings by Grinling Gibbons.  Exton Church features in Simon Jenkins’ excellent book England’s 1000 Best Churches and so as it draws quite a few visitors you should find a copy of a handy church history/guide to the memorials when you are there.

St Mary-the-Virgin Church Morcott

St Mary-the-Virgin Church Morcott

MORCOTT – St Mary-the-Virgin. In the heart of the village, set on a triangular ‘island’ surrounded by pretty stone cottages, Morcott is Rutland’s best-preserved Norman church, with wonderfully-carved tops to the columns supporting the Norman arcade on the north side. The two columns supporting the Tower arch are also carved: one of them has a serpent swallowing its tail.

Morcott's Norman carvings

Morcott’s Norman carvings

Outside, the Tower has both a badly-weathered Norman west door, and two interesting windows arranged above it, including a rare so-called ‘pancake’ window which lights the first floor of the tower, where the clock is housed. Simon Jenkins left Morcott out of his book, but I forgive him, because in fairness the Victorians did a fair bit of re-ordering in the late 19th century, when the Jacobean furniture inside the church were re-organised to create the lovely panels on the front of the pulpit, and the ends of a couple of reading desks at the back of the aisle, but it could have been worse: they could have thrown it away. But Morcott is really all about those Norman arches, so do visit. After, go and see St Mary’s at South Luffenham: it seems likely the same stone-carver worked on this church too.

TEIGH – Holy Trinity. This tiny village consists of a farm, a ‘big house’ and a few cottages. The church is a gem, and quite different from most because of its internal layout. From the outside, it looks fairly normal, with an early stone square tower at the west end of a church that has stood here in one form or other since the 13th century. But the main body of the church was re-built in the late 18th century: inside it is entirely Georgian and it is beautiful in its simplicity. First there is a circular hallway at the bottom of the west tower, which is how you enter the church: steps wind up to the tower from here. Inside, there is one long open space, with wooden box pews facing, not to the east as you may expect, but inwards to the central aisle. This is strange enough, but turn around and behind you at the West end of the church is a big three-tiered pulpit bang over the aisle. So when you went to church you turned your head to the west for the sermon and to the east for communion! Teigh is a really pretty, simple yet stunning Rutland church and rightly features in Simon Jenkins’ England’s 1000 Best Churches.

TICKENCOTE – St Peter. This is a truly amazing church. There was a major re-build at the end of the 1700s, which is when the extraordinary exterior, with its layer upon layer of blind arcading was added, but the Norman interior was not changed, and it is the zig-a-zag carving on the absolutely massive chancel arch which looks as if the building could hardly bear to support. I have never seen anything like it in such good condition: so many similar Norman doorways are almost totally eroded by being outside: some say that this was once the only entrance to the original tiny one-room church, in which case it was saved by the church ‘extension’ which became the main nave. The Chancel itself is pretty too, with a nice vaulted roof. But it is all about that Norman arch really. Tickencote today is a tiny village tucked beside the busy A1, but well worth the effort to find it.

TIXOVER – St Luke. This is a lovely little church untouched by ‘improvements’ after the 18th century and all the better for it. To reach it, you must drive slowly through the little hamlet and collect the church key from Manor Farm at the almost-end of the n0-through road. You carry on through the farmyard and on the field track out to the church, which is close to the river and surrounded by farmland. If you have a low-slung sports car I would not recommend it, as the track is a bumpy one more suitable for tractors. Key features are the original stone bench seats on either side of the chancel; a beautiful 17th century monument that seems too grand for such a tiny off-the-beaten-track church; Jacobean pews and what I think is a strange reading desk/lectern, more like a court’s ‘bar’ than anything else. There is no electricity at St Luke’s: the organ must be ‘pedalled’ to make the bellows go, but there is nothing so magical as a Christmas Carol or a Candlemas service here, when over 100 candles illuminate the ancient space.

These are just five Rutland Churches that I think are noteworthy – more will follow.  I have to declare an interest in the second one: it is my parish church, and I am a volunteer on the Parochial Church Council. Please visit, sign the visitors’ book and (if you would be so kind) make a small donation in the box that you will find for this purpose, so that we can continue to maintain such beautiful ancient buildings.

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