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Church Post Code PE29 2AW

Open to Visitors


It was a fine and sunny August morning in 2023 and I had planned a three church mini crawl, starting off at the church of St Mary the Virgin at Godmanchester, before moving on to the two surviving medieval town centre churches in Huntingdon; with the prospect of a bacon butty at Huntingdon All Saints! Not for the first time, and doubtless not the last, church photography and food go hand in hand!

Of all the places covered in my websites looking at the churches which surround Peterborough, Godmanchester would go down as being one of the more historic. A Roman fort was built here not long after the Roman invasion of AD43. This turned in to the Roman town of Durovigutum, which flourished due to its position alongside Ermine Street, one of England’s most important Roman roads.

This became Godmanchester, which today is an attractive, bustling small town which had a population of 7,893 at the time of the 2021 census. The town can be found just over a mile to the south of Huntingdon.

This really is a very attractive town, with a recreation ground off to the south with ornamental ‘Chinese Bridge’ crossing the River Great Ouse. The local swans will approach in their usual passive aggressive manner, greeting those who they suspect have food in an outwardly friendly manner but with always that undercurrent of menace!


  The church of St Mary the Virgin can be found set back from the main road a little at the end of a lane. The visitor approaches the church from the south, passing a beautiful Grade II Listed 17th century two storey cottage; this being one of an impressive 124 listed structures within the town.

There was a church and a priest listed here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, but the present structure dates back to the 13th century, with much work here over the next 200 years leaving us with the large and impressive church that we see today. The tower was rebuilt in 1623 and the church was restored by George Gilbert Scott in 1853.

The church here consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south porches, chancel and north vestry and organ chamber.

The 17th century west tower is thought to replace a previous 13th century tower; with a date of 1625 included over the west doorway. The tower is of four stages, with large and impressive stair turret, rising up above the height of the tower itself to the south east corner. The tower is buttressed, battlemented and pinnacled, with the church clock facing out from the south and west. The octagonal broach spire has three tiers of lucarne windows and it looks as if the tip of the spire may have been replaced at some point.


The north and south porches are each substantial, two storey affairs, with entrance through the south porch. This has tall empty image niches to either side of the door, which would have help statues in pre reformation times. Gargoyles of high quality look out at an angle to the south east and south west.

The clerestories are of five windows to north and south and the chancel is large with three single light lancet windows to the east. On the south wall of the chancel is an unusual 13th century mass dial in the shape of a wheel which is divided in to eight hour and a half sections.

   There is a ring of eight bells here, with each of the eight being struck by Downham Market founder Thomas Osborn. Revd Owen's Victorian study of the church bells of Huntingdonshire, which was published in 1899, stated that the ring of eight bells was struck in 1794 by Osborne, using the metal from four bells which hung here before that time, at an expense of £120 which was raised by voluntary subscription. One of the bells has the inscription 'our voices shall with joyful sound make hills and valleys echo round'.

I have fond memories of standing to the east of the church on a previous visit, listening to the church bells which were in full flow for a long time. As has been the case on each of my previous visits here the church was open to visitors; with an apology from a friendly lady who had opened up a few minutes later than she would normally have! As always, it is good that people open and close day after day; great Christian witness, especially in challenging times!


Moving inside, I repeat what I mentioned earlier, this is a church of impressive proportions. It is bright and welcoming inside, despite the large amount of stained glass to be seen here. There are five bay arcades to north and south, tall and elegant; dating from the late 15th to early 16th centuries.  The chancel arch, similarly of impressive dimensions, dates from the late 15th century, using material from an earlier 13th century arch.

There are two blind windows, on either side of the chancel arch, which at one point would have allowed for extra light in to the building. At one point back in time these would have been tall lancet windows but were reduced in height when the chancel arch was raised. The insides of these windows have traces of medieval wall paintings, a fascinating glimpse back to a previous age!

A Victorian rood screen separates nave from chancel, this dating from the 19th century.  At the top of this screen is a carving of the crucifixion with Mary and John standing alongside the cross, on which hangs the crucified Christ. Rood screens and the carving of the cross above would have been a part of most churches in pre reformation times. They were hated by the reformers, particularly the carvings, and were seen as idolatrous and destroyed as a result. Note that Mary stands to the left of the cross as we look at it. If we look at it from Jesus’ viewpoint this would make her on Jesus’ right hand side. This was the place of honour in Jewish custom and on virtually all carvings such as this; Mary will occupy this pride of place.


The chancel has a reredos which dates from the very early 20th century; which is raised at the centre; mimicking the east window behind it, which consists of three single lancet windows, with the central window higher than those flanking it.

 The reredos partially obscures the stained glass, which consists of several scenes from the life and death of Christ. We have the usual; the nativity, Jesus’ baptism and a moving depiction of the deposition, Jesus’ body being taken from the cross. There is also the slightly more unusual with the disciples waiting for the Holy Spirit and Jesus lecturing the disciples in front of a withered fig tree.

The altar at the east end of the south aisle is dedicated to St Anne, who Christian tradition states was the mother of the Virgin Mary. The east window of the south aisle is of five lights, with the stained glass on two levels. This fine glass is courtesy of  Burlinson and Grylls. Central on the upper level is Christ in majesty, wearing a crown, with hand raised in blessing and holding a globe; an aureole of flame radiating out. At Christ’s feet are a celestial band of golden haired angel musicians.

To the far left as we look at it are Peter, with keys to the kingdom of Heaven, a youthful John and Paul with downturned sword. Closer to Christ we have the prophets, with King David easily identifiable with harp. On the far right we have the Virgin Mary in her characteristic blue gown. We also have the martyrs, with Stephen among them carrying the stones which marks the manner of his martyrdom.

The lower level concerns Matthew Chapter 25, verses 25 to 46, the sheep and the goats, with text below in the King Janes translation reading ‘5 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.


The stained glass in this church is of great quality and interest, and also includes a three light window depicting scenes from the life of Mary; meeting Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, when both were pregnant; the nativity and presenting Jesus to Simeon in the temple. Below this are some words from the Magnificat

One stained glass window depicts the flight to Egypt. Mary and Jesus head to safety, guided by golden haired angels, one of whom leads the donkey whilst two others light the way with lanterns. Mary holds the baby Jesus whilst Joseph is off to the rear, gazing intently at his wife and son, also holding a lantern.

High up in one window is a depiction of Martha and Mary with Jesus. Mary was a listener, and was content to sit at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words. Martha was a doer, and as usual is shown holding a platter. Jesus makes plain which is the better way; with part of Luke Chapter 10 verse 42, with test reading ‘Mary hath chosen that good part’.


Elsewhere, the central two lights of a four light window depicts John the Baptist baptising Jesus, flanked by Noah, who holds an ark and Moses who holds the commandments. Close by, we have the scene on Easter morning as the two Marys and Salome reach Jesus’ tomb, to find it empty. Two angels, with golden hair and fabulous wings of peacock feathers tell them, in Latin for whatever reason, that Jesus is not here, he has risen!

A truncated tree of Jesse window is of interest. The central line here has Jesse at the bottom, with King David above and the baby Jesus in Mary’s arms centre top. Alongside are characters who were kings of Israel.

A window by Morris, in vibrant colours, depicts Christ in majesty, crowned and holding a globe, on which there is a cross. Below are representations of justice, who is shown holding scales, courage who is dressed in armour and a glorious depiction of humility, which is in the form of a woman holding a lamb who looks shyly away to her right. Of all of the glass here, this small piece is my favourite!


A wall plaque depicts a veiled human skull with crossed bones below. The skull looks out at those looking in; the message being clear: Man is mortal and will die. Therefore live a good life and be at peace with God, for you don’t know when your own time will come. In days of low life expectancy, it may be later than you think. The font looks bruised and battered; dating from the 13th century but standing on a modern base, with modern hedgehog cuddly toy!


Moving outside, to the south of the church is a stone erected to the memory of Mary Anne Weems. It says, very simply 'To the memory of Mary Ann Weems, who was murdered in the 21st year of her age'. The reverse of the grave has great detail though of what happened, and reads...'As a warning to the young of both sexes, this stone is erected by public subscription over the remains of Mary Ann Weems, who became acquainted with Thomas Weems, formerly of this parish. This connextion terminating in a compulsary marriage occasioned his soon to desert here and wishing to be married to another woman he filled up the measure of his iniquity by resolving to murder his wife, which he barbarously perpetrated at Wendy on their journey to London toward which place he had induced her to go under the mask of reconciliation on May 7th 1819. He was taken within a few hours after the crime was committed, and was executed on the 7th August in the same year'.

A fabulous church, open and welcoming with a vast amount of interest! If visiting here, allow plenty of time as there is much to see. An absolute must if you are in the area. It was time to head off on foot towards Huntingdon, disturbing a heron on the way; thoughts of bacon rolls starting to take hold… 

The majority of photographs on this page are from the 2023 visit, but a few of the exterior shots are from previous visits.

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