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St Mary Magdalene, Essendine, Rutland

(52°42′6″N, 0°26′56″W)
TF 049 127
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Rutland
now Rutland
  • Thomas E. Russo
  • Thomas E. Russo
16 October 2011

Please use this link to cite this page - https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=112272.

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Essendine is a village in Eastern Rutland, located 5 mi N of Stamford. This charming little church dedicated to St Mary sits isolated on the edge of the village. It is situated within a larger medieval site that once included a castle surrounded by a moat, fed by the West Glen River just to the east of the property. St. Mary’s is basically a two-cell 12th c. church which was remodeled in the 13th c. It consists of a chancel slightly higher than the nave and a well-preserved 13th c. double-bellcote on the W end of the nave, a common feature on Rutland churches. Extent Romanesque fabric includes the stunning S doorway, the simpler N doorway and components of the chancel arch, although it has evidently been rebuilt.


In 1086 Essendine was among the lands in Northhamptonshire owned by the bishop of Lincoln, Remigius. Essendine is mentioned in DB but there is no reference made to a church. A manorial mill is mentioned in Domesday and it is possible that this mill may have been part of the moated enclosure belonging to the castle that was adjacent to the church of St. Mary to the NE. The castle is thought to date from the late 12th c., though only its earthworks remain. The church's medieval dedication to St. Mary Magdalene is attested to in reference to a 1356 baptism in the church.


Exterior Features


Interior Features



Loose Sculpture


The extensive use of sculpture on the S doorway is extremely rare in the county, the only other example of such prolific use of sculpture being the chancel arch at Stoke Dry. The iconography of Christ in Majesty was a popular one in the 12th c. and Keyser notes twenty-two examples of the subject in his survey of Romanesque tympana and lintels. In fact, a blessing Christ in Majesty is found on the tympanum set in the S porch at St. Kyneburgha, Castor only 18 miles away. At Essendine, both the blessing action of Christ and the proclaiming action of the angels are emphasized by the quite oversized, gesturing hands – a visual, narrative device common in early Romanesque art. Pevsner dates the tympanum in the second third of the 12th c.; Page suggests a date of c. 1130 – 1140 and quite rightly associated the style in the tympanum with that of the sculpture on the jambs.

The superimposition of the 2nd order archivolt voussoirs in front of and overlapping those of the tympanum does indeed suggest that the jambs and tympanum belong to an earlier build than that of the archivolt. That there has been much change to this tympanum is demonstrated by Carter’s description and 1780 print of the entire doorway. At that time the doorway was squared headed and the tympanum extended down to almost the middle of the nook-shaft capitals. This lower zone of the tympanum included the other hands of the Angels grasping a large, beaded rainbow upon which Christ was seated; more of Christ’s legs below the knees were also depicted. At some time post-1780 this lower zone was cut away and the chamfered, curved bottom edge of the tympanum created. On the other hand, Carter also notes that the bases of the nook-shafts were buried, hence their absence from his drawing as well as the E jamb showing only the upper half of the large, lower pictorial zone. The other difference to note between the current doorway and Carter’s print is that both ends of the label now have an odd upward angle, whereas in the print the label end on the E side of the doorway is in a horizontal line.

The massive size of the stone of the interior E jamb of the S doorway raises the question as to whether this jamb was originally part of something else, such as a standing cross or a screen. This possibility is supported by the height differential between the S doorway’s exterior E jamb and interior E jamb, a difference of 0.14 m.

The commonality of the incised triangular motif seen on the respond bases on the chancel arch with that on the nave N doorway lintel suggests that they were built at the same time. Likewise, the shared frontal chevron motif on the 2nd order of the chancel arch and on the 2nd order of the S portal suggest that they too are coterminous in date. On the other hand, the pointed chancel arch proposes a rebuilding of the arch post-1200 with a reuse of the original stones – clearly supported by the awkward joining of the voussoirs at the apex. The lack of imposts on the chancel arch also supports the later rebuilding of the arch in its current pointed form.

Since the church is located within the bailey of the castle it may have had its origins as the domestic chapel to the castle.


R. Baxter, St. Kyneburgha, Castor, CRSBI, https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=11425

J. Carter, The Ancient Architecture of England, Part 1, Orders of Architecture during the British, Roman, and Norman Eras (London: H. G. Bohn, 1845), p. 18, plate XX.

O. Creighton, 'Early Castles in the Medieval Landscape of Rutland', Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 73 (1999), 19-33.

Domesday Book: Rutland, ed. Frank Thorn (Chichester: Phillimore, 1980), EN 8.

C. Keyser, A List of Norman Tympana and Lintels (London, 1904; 2nd ed. 1927), xxx, lxv.

  1. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland (London: Penguin, 1960; revised edn. 1998), 466-467.
  1. A. Stamp, E. Salisbury, E. Atkinson and J. O'Reilly, 'Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward III, File 135', in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: Volume 10, Edward III (London, 1921), pp. 274-292. Available at British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/inquis-post-mortem/vol10/pp274-292

Victoria County History: Rutland I (London, 1935), 113-114.

Victoria County History: Rutland II (London, 1935), 250-254.