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Church Post Code NG33 4QX

Open to visitors


It was a gloriously sunny early afternoon in February 2023, with not a cloud in the sky, and it was a return visit to the church of St Medardus and St Gilgardus, Little Bytham. This was the seventh church visited thus far; a day which started at Rippingale, north of Bourne, then working our way west towards the Rutland border.       

Little Bytham is a pleasant South Kesteven Licolnshire village, which had a population of 384 at the time of the 2011 census. It can be found some six miles north of Stamford, with Bourne off to the east. The Rutland border is not too far away to the west.  The public house in the village is called the Mallard, after the steam locomotive which created a speed record in 1938, with 126 miles per hour recorded between Little Bytham and Essendine stations.

There was a church mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, in lands belonging to Drogo of la Beuvriere; and it appears as if it had been standing for a while at this time with the oldest parts of the church here dating back to the 10th century, as we shall see in a moment.

The church here is dedicated to St Medard and St Gilgard, and in the past was dedicated solely to St Medardus, Gildard being added towards the turn of the millennium. This is a unique dedication for any church in this country. Medardus was a French Bishop who lived during the fifth and sixth centuries.

Legend states that he was sheltered from the rain by an eagle and is therefore the patron saint of the weather, both good and bad. As well as vineyards, brewers, prisoners, the mentally ill, sterility and toothache! Medardus is well known in France, but not so here. Gilgardus is said to have been his brother, and is less well known.


The church here in centrally located and I walked in from the west; the tower and spire standing proudly above some lovely old stone buildings. The church consists of west tower with spire, nave with south aisle, south porch and chancel.

The church is set on slightly high ground, with the top of the churchyard wall being level with the ground, giving an uninterrupted view out across the church grounds. The village war memorial stands to the south of the grounds, with a bench close by looking out to the south. It was a bright, sunny day, but the temperature was only a few degrees above freezing; on another day the bench would have been a nice place to sit for a while and watch the world go by.

The west tower dates from the early 13th century; the parapet and frieze at the top date from the 15th century. Gargoyles of some age look out from the four corners. The church clock in the traditional colours of blue and gold is set to the south face.

The recessed, octagonal spire dates to the 14th century and has two tiers of lucarne windows, which are irregularly placed.

This is an ancient building, with the earliest parts dating back to the 10th century, with some long and short stonework to the south east of the nave dating back to that time.


 A priests door on the south wall of the chancel dates from the 12th century, and has a tympanum arch which has a deep central recess flanked by two roundels, with each containing a bird, likely to be eagles. It is suggested that, at one point back in time, the central recess would have held a relic of St Medardus. Perhaps this is how the church got its dedication. Perhaps someone connected with this church, hundreds of years ago came back from a trip to France with a relic, which was displayed; the church being dedicated accordingly!

Interestingly, there is a tiny double window, immediately to the left of this priest’s door. This is really low down and I am struggling to think of a purpose for it; except to say that its use may be for people to see in to the chancel, while a service is going on rather than being for people in the chancel to look out!

A door on the north wall of the nave dates back to the 12th century. It has an elegant semi-circular arch with dogtooth pattern. Above the arch is a carving of a man who appears to be dancing.


When Thomas North compiled his study of the church bells in Lincolnshire, which was published in 1882, there were three bells hanging here, with this still being the case today.

The first two of the ring were cast by Downham Market founder William Dobson in 1831 and 1832 with each inscribed ‘Rev William Tennant curate John Ormond churchwarden’. These would have been among the last bells produced by this founder, with his business being taken over and becoming part of the Whitechapel bell foundry soon after.

The third of the ring was cast locally, by Tobias Norris I of the Stamford bellfoundry. This bell is dated 1612 and has the Latin inscription ‘NON CLAMOR SED AMOR CANTAT IN AVRE DEI’, which translates as ‘Not noise but love songs in the ear of God’.

With regards the tower here at that time, North goes on to mention that the bells were newly hung with the tower and spire lights carefully wired with the whole place being decent and clean!


The church was open to visitors; moving inside, there was a lovely light quality. It was bright and welcoming, with lack of clerestory windows being offset by lack of stained glass to the south side of the church.

The three bay south arcade dates from the 12th century, with circular piers with hobnail decoration on the capitals. On the north wall there is a pair of 13th century niches, above which is another which dates from the 14th century, which has an elaborately carved, crocketed canopy.

The 13th century chancel arch has a pointed arch; standing at the chancel and looking west, the tower arch is older, dating from the 12th century, with elegant rounded arch, with beasts heads at the bottom; with the figure on the south having an elongated nose and three teeth showing in a cavernous mouth!


The east window in the south aisle is of three lights and of clear glass. Communion would have been taken here in the past, evidenced by a piscina on the south wall. The altar is gone though, a modern radiator standing against the east wall.

Moving in to the chancel, the reredos dates from the time of the Victorian restoration, and runs the full width of the chancel. Central are three panels in mosaic form with the ascension at the centre; flanked by the nativity and the baptism of Jesus. A double piscina is set in to the south wall, with a roundel containing a cross between the two.

The east window is of five lights and dates from 1882. Central is a depiction of the transfiguration, with Jesus above, flanked by Moses, who holds a commandment tablet and Elijah who holds a sword. Peter James and John look to be asleep below, but are stunned after hearing the voice of God.

Below this the Last Supper is shown. Jesus is central, holding a chalice with one finger pointing upwards. The disciples are gathered around the table; one has his head bowed in prayer whilst all of the others apart from one gazing at Jesus. Judas looks away, in the act of departing the scene, carrying a bag of money.

Judas is depicted with nimbus (halo) but his nimbus is darker that the others. Sometimes Judas is depicted with a dark nimbus, sometimes his nimbus is black and sometimes he has no nimbus at all. Judas is seldom depicted looking towards Jesus; normally looking away or physically leaving the room. The money bag that he carries sometimes has the number 30 on it, this representing the 30 silver coins that he betrayed Jesus for.


On the four corners we have single panels illustrating four parables. From bottom left and working clockwise we have the sower and the seed, the good Samaritan, the return of the prodigal son and the lost sheep.

I will just make a brief comment with regards the return of the prodigal son. The son is shown on his knees before his father and barefoot. In those days only slaves and servants went barefoot. The father’s instruction on hearing that his son had returned was ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet’ (Luke Chapter 15 verse 22 NIV Version). This is symbolic of full forgiveness and restoration.

Elsewhere we have a three light depiction of faith, hope and love; as usual in the shape of three female figures. Charity is central which is logical as I Corinthians Chapter 13 verse 13 reads ‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity’. This is how it reads in the King James Version; many modern versions replace the word ‘Charity’ with ‘love’.

Charity is flanked by Faith who holds a cross and either a Bible or prayer book and Hope who carries and anchor.

Against the north wall of the chancel is a canopied tomb recess which, given its prime location, would have been for someone of great importance. A little research after my visit shows that there is mention of this being an Easter Sepulchre, which Pevsner described as ‘coarse’. This may well have started off life as a tomb before being altered at some point.


Moving back outside, I spent a little while looking around the well tended church grounds. There are some finely crafted gravestones but, to be fair, nothing of any great interest or rarity. There is one gravestone which has its own Grade II Listing, with this being dated 1679.

The light quality was really good on this glorious afternoon, with the sun highlighting the orange lichen on many of the stones.

This is a fine church, full of interest and history. Open to visitors and well worth taking a look at. I always find it fascinating to see a church listed in the Domesday Survey, 937 years distant at the time of typing this, and still see parts of it today. History that you can reach out and touch!

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