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Church Post Code  PE9 4EA

Opened by Arrangement.


It was a bright and sunny late morning in February 2023; and we were part way through a South Kesteven and Rutland crawl. We had started at Rippingale to the north of Bourne and were exploring churches to the west of Bourne, slowly working our way towards the Rutland border.

The church of St Stephen at Careby was our eighth church of the day, with each of the eight being open. For whatever reason, this is a church that I had hardly touched over the years; my only time spent here in the past being a fleeting visit back in 2007, armed with a very basic digital camera.

The church here is normally kept closed to visitors but helpful keyholders opened up for me, which was appreciated very much.

Careby is one of a cluster of villages, which can be found in the area between the A1 and the A15. A busy road to either side, but this is a quiet peaceful and very attractive area.

Bourne is six miles or so away to the north east; Stamford is nine miles away to the south. The Rutland country line is a short distance away to the south and east.

The east coast main railway line runs to the west of the village, and it was close to here, between Little Bytham and Essendine stations, back in 1938, that the Mallard achieved a speed of 126 mph, with this being a record, still unbroken, for a steam locomotive.


There was no traffic at all here, just the sound of birds as I walked down the path which leads to the church; which is set back from the main road a little, with Grade II Listed rectory immediately off to the west. There was a Muntjac deer at the end of the path; who stared at me as I tried to get my camera out without disturbing it. No photos this time as the deer bolted; jumped a fence and tore off at speed in the direction of Little Bytham!

I couldn’t find any mention of a church here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086; in fact I couldn’t find a village listed full stop! Possibly the village figures were incorporated in with a neighbouring village. The church here dates back to the 12th century, and consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north vestry and chancel. The church was added to during the 13th and 14th centuries with a period of rebuilding during the 15th century. There was a period of restoration here during the 19th century.

The substantial square west tower is of two stages and dates back to the early 13th century. The tower is quite plain, with just a two light window at the belfry stage, and a couple of slim lancet windows at the west end. A corbel string at the top of the tower features heads with a variety of grotesque expressions.

The gabled south porch also dates from the 13th century. Two ancient looking human heads can be seen at the bases of the arch, sitting just above foliated capitals. A veiled female figure can be seen to the west, with her companion to the east considerable more weathered; facial features almost worn away and looking to be wearing a crown. Perhaps we have a king and his queen, standing guard, watching those approaching the church from the south for the last few hundred years!


This is a church of impressive proportions; with this no doubt reflecting back to the wealth of village in past days. It is worth noting that churches were often built not with the size of the village in mind, but with an eye towards building something to the glory of God, and helping to lessen the time that the donor and his family would have to spend in purgatory following their death.

The chancel dates back to the 12th century. A priest’s door and two windows all have semi circular arches; with a blocked out window close to the priest’s door..

There are two bells in the ring here, with each being of great age. Thomas North, in his late Victorian study of the church bells in Lincolnshire, gave a little detail. The first of the ring was cast in Leicester around 1550, and is attributed to Robert I Newcombe. This one is an alphabet bell, with the inscription consisting of the letters A to I in alphabetical order.

The second of the ring is of great age, with the National Church Bell Database dating this to around 1350. This one is blank and there is no founder attributed to it.

Thomas North was very thorough in what he did and he normally notes certain things of interest, which makes for interesting reading. Here though, all he mentions apart from listing the bells is that the date 1693 is cut in to the bell frame. This could mean that work on the frame was completed at that time.


As mentioned earlier, the church here is normally closed to visitors but was unlocked for me, for which I was really grateful. Moving inside, it was bright and welcoming; the clerestory windows were working well, with plenty of sunlight streaming in, with the lack of stained glass on the south side also helping in that respect.

This is a pleasing interior; with three bay arcades to north and south, with the church organ occupying the most westerly bay in the north aisle. The chancel arch dates from the 15th century; the tower arch at the west is much older, its semi-circular arch dates from the 13th century.

The chancel shows the hand of the Victorian restorers with the reredos, communion rails, stone pulpit and reading desk all dating from that time. A glance upwards shows a remarkable vaulted ceiling. Of considerably more age is the piscina on the south wall of the chancel and the south wall of the  south chapel; with the east wall of this having small panels with the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.


The east window is of three lights and contains stained glass of vibrant colours. It was created by Reverend John Birch-Reynardson, who passed away aged 98 in 1914, after serving as the rector here for 70 years.

 Christ is majesty can be seen in the tracery, in front of a blood red background, with depictions of the resurrection and the ascension below.

Below that we see the stoning of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, after who this church is dedicated. Next to that is the crucifixion; with this depiction being a little different. When we look at the crucifixion we always see Mary the Mother of Jesus on the left as we look at it and St John on the right.

The reason for this is that, when we look at it from Jesus’ point of view. Looking out from the cross, Mary would be on Jesus’ right hand side. Although there are no specific rules set down with regards the placing of statues, it is generally accepted that the position of importance is that on the right hand side of Jesus, with Mary taking the place of honour.

Next to the crucifixion we see the scene of Easter morning, with the three Mary’s meeting an Angel of the Lord outside the empty tomb ‘He is not here Hs is risen’

Below this we have three more scenes from the life of Jesus. To the left we have Jesus surrounded by children, followed by Joseph and Mary, with the baby Jesus on a donkey; the flight to Egypt.

 The final panel is my favourite; Jesus sits with some of his disciples. They sit on high ground; Jesus explaining something to them. A relaxed, informal grouping, but with something of great importance being passed over!


Other stained glass here is an illustration of the Good Samaritan. The stricken Jew is tended for by the Samaritan, his bitter enemy, whilst the Priest walks by without offering help; with his head stuck in his religious scroll!

There are two monuments of importance here. Against the north wall of the chancel is a 14th century effigy of a knight. The knight wears chain mail armour and is recumbent, with hands raised in prayer. The knight rests his head on a pillow; attended by a cherub who has lost its head. The knight’s feet rest on a lion.

In the south aisle we have a very interesting monument, which dates to the early 14th century. This is to a knight and his lady, who lay side by side, with all covered up apart from their heads and shoulders. The knight is in full armour, with his lady wearing an elaborate headdress. Their arms are visible and they are also at prayer. A shield can be seen on top of the covers, decorated at the top by three scallop shells.


The church grounds are interesting, and picturesque, with the River West Glen running close to the churchyard wall to the south. Several gravestones, close to the south porch, have Grade II Listing, including one to Dorothy Bulliman, which is in startlingly good condition given that it dates from 1668.

Close by a depiction of a human skull, with crossed human bones, reminds the onlooker that Man is mortal and must die. Therefore, live a good Christian life and be at peace with God when your own time comes. In days of low life expectancy, it might be later than you think. These messages were passed over in symbol form so at to be easily understood in times weher most people would not be able to read or write.

It was time to hit the road again, with the short trip to neighbouring Little Bytham before we crossed in to Rutland for the rest of the afternoon. The church of St Stephen at Careby is a beautiful little church, set in picturesque surroundings and I enjoyed my brief stay there very much. Well worth taking a look at if you are in the area.

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