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Church Post Code LE15 8NX

Open to visitors

 It had been a mild start to the winter of 2022, but that ended in mid December with temperatures dropping sharply. The frost was on the ground as we headed in to Rutland, with the church of St Mary the Virgin, South Luffenham being the fourth church of what turned in to a 12 church crawl, with all 12 being open to visitors.

South Luffenham is a pleasant village, which had a population of 455 at the time of the 2011 census. North Luffenham can be found, logically, a short distance off to the north, with the two villages separated by the river Chater. Rutland Water is a few miles further away to the north; Stamford is off to the north east and Uppingham to the west.


It is always good to be back in Rutland, with its glorious countryside with picturesque villages and for the most part, their open and welcoming churches. The church of St Mary the Virgin stands central in the village, surrounded by delightful cottages. A village green stands just to the west of the church, with benches wrapped around a young tree. What a pleasant place to sit with a drink, watching the world go by. Being Rutland, it would pass by that little bit slower, which is good. Perhaps the benches would not be used much today though with the temperature hovering around freezing.

An old red phone box stands on the green, this having a Grade II listing in its own right, which houses a defibrillator. Flashback to earlier in the year when I was asking for directions on the cycle in Northamptonshire and a lady pointed out where all the defibrillators were on my route just in case!

This was my third visit to this church, and on each occasion I have found it open. Doing a little preliminary work prior to setting out, I noticed that the church website has a section entitled ‘Historical Notes for Churchcrawlers’. A nice touch guys, thanks for this!


   The church of St Mary The Virgin started off life as a very basic structure of nave and small chancel. It was enlarged around 1150 - 1200 with the addition of a north aisle. The south aisle was added in the first half of the 13th century. In the 14th century, both aisles were rebuilt, with the tower being added, the south porch being built and the nave clerestory being added. The Chancel clerestory was added in the 15th century.

There was much work undertaken here during Victorian times. The chancel was restored around 1850 and there was a general restoration in 1861. The stained glass that we see here also date from Victorian times.

   When Thomas North was compiling his study of the church bells of Rutland, which was printed in 1880, he noted that there were four bells hanging. The first of these was cast by Watts of Leicester in 1593. The inscription reads 'Hew Watts Made Me 1593' but the whole of the inscription reads back to front!

The second bell was blank and was cracked. The third bell, which was also damaged, came courtesy of a local founder, Tobias Norris I, and reads 'OMNIA : FIANT : AD : GLORIAM : DEI  : 1618' which translates as 'Let All Things Be Done For The Glory Of God'. Both second and third bells were recast by Taylor of Loughborough in 1886.

   The fourth bell is of considerable age, being cast by Mellours of Nottingham as far back as 1510. North also goes on to note that the bell frame has the inscription 'AL : AW l CW 1681'.


We approached the church from the west, the sun shining brightly but failing to burn off the overnight frost. The tower is square, perpendicular, buttressed and battlemented.  The church clock faces out from the west face.

A frieze consisting of a repeated quatrefoil design can be seen across the top of the tower, underneath which is a row of small grotesque faces, one of which has cheeks puffed out; possibly struggling with the cold. A large gargoyle, of some age and quality looks out from the west, with similar centrally on the other three sides. A recessed octagonal, crocketed spire rises up from the tower, with three tiers of lucarne windows in alternating directions. The Union Jack flag hangs limply from its pole on this crisp, still winter morning.

The church exterior is quite difficult to photograph; with the grounds quite tight with several trees. South aisle flows seamlessly in to chapel, with the chancel standing taller than the nave. The chancel has its own clerestory, with the windows being of a different style, indicating the different time period from which they date.

An impish figure, with disconcerting evil grin which shows a mouthful of fearsome looking teeth, can be seen at the eastern end of the chancel. There does not appear to be any great age to this.


The visitor enters in through the 14th century south porch, entering in to the church itself through the south doorway which dates to around 1300. On entering the church my eye was immediately drawn to the north arcade, and its elaborately carved capitals.

The late 12th century north arcade is of two bays, with circular piers and carved capitals.  There are carvings of human heads with one seeming to be a monk with pudding basin hairstyle.

The south arcade is of three bays, with the most easterly of the three being smaller. The south arcade is not as elaborate, with round piers and capitals, the latter having nailhead pattern.

Nave is separated from chancel by a small screen. The chancel arch dates to around 1300 and is wide with pointed arch; this framing beautifully the five light east window behind it!


The chancel is impressively large and it was very bright inside, with the sun shining in through the chancel clerestory windows. There is a mixture of ancient and relatively modern here with Victorian floor tiles and reredos being set against a treble sedilia and chest tomb of considerably greater age.

Starting off with the ancient; against the north wall of the chancel is a 14th century chest tomb which depicts a recumbent figure at prayer. The figure rests on a chest which has on it a repeated pattern of quatrefoil design. On the west face of this chest is the coat of arms of the Culpepper family.

 Against the south wall of the chancel is a triple sedilia, the seating for clergy. There would usually be a piscina immediately to the east of the sedilia, in which the priest would wash his hands and the sacred vessels after mass. This is missing though; however the reredos runs the entire width of the chancel and extends out a little on to the north and south walls. The reredos on the south wall could well have covered over where the piscina was. A closer inspection of the sedilia shows the almost obligatory bottle of hand sanitiser, which dates the photograph to the covid years.

The chancel walls are plain with no memorials on them. The walls look as if they may have been stripped of plaster during the 19th century restorations. There are two bays to the west of the chancel leading in to the south chapel, which now houses the church organ.


As mentioned earlier, the five light east window is of clear glass; but there is stained glass to be seen here. A two light window depicts St Mary and Simeon, to whom Jesus was presented in the temple.  Simeon holds Jesus aloft while Mary looks on. She holds two doves; an interesting reference to Jesus’ humble origins, this being the offering for the poorer people who could not afford a lamb.

On another window, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist faces Mary the mother of Jesus. Here, Mary is depicted as golden haired and wears a fine robe; this possibly in contradiction with her humble origins shown in the previous window.

Close by stand St Michael and St Gabriel, both archangels. Michael is shown in armour, carrying a spear and shield. Gabriel, who appeared before Mary at the annunciation, carries a lily, symbolic of purity.

Another two light window puzzles me a little. Jesus is talking to a seated man. I took this to be Jesus calling Matthew, in his tax collectors booth, to follow him.

Other glass includes a depiction of the annunciation, with the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, with a speech banner which reads ‘Thou That Is Highly Favoured’. Mary is at a prayer desk, with lilies as a symbol of purity.


   At the east end of the south aisle is a floor slab, sadly badly worn away, to one Rose Boswell, the daughter of Edward Boswell, the King Of The Gypsies. Rose died on the edge of South Luffenham in 1794, whilst her family were camped there, at the age of 17 years. At first there was an argument over whether she could be buried at the church, with the church wardens of the day not wanting the burial of a non Christian. The vicar had his way fortunately and  Rose was allowed to be buried. A marble  floor slab was laid, with inscription that reads ‘'What grief can vent this loss, or praises tell, how much, how good, how beautiful she fell.'.

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The church grounds are of interest, without there being anything of any great importance. A carving of a human skull peers out from a coating of white lichen, reminding the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. Therefore live as good Christian life and do not be caught short when your own time comes.

 Elsewhere, two finely carved angels hold aloft a crown; this is a symbol of victory with the victory here being over death! This can be seen as a testament as to the faith of the deceased. He has won his rewards in Heaven, now onlooker, do the same!

A double grave is very weathered, with the date of 1677 just discernible though. Close by stands a Victorian gravestone which simply reads Mrs Diana Trollope 1823. This one intrigued me and I attempted some research, but all that I could turn up is that she died a spinster.

It was good to be back here again, both in Rutland and South Luffenham. This is a church of which I am particularly fond. Open, welcoming and with much of interest! Worth a look if you are in the area; and if you can spare the time this is an area of open churches.

All photographs used on this page are from my visit in December 2022, with the exception of the two gravestone photographs at the foot of the page, which were taken on a previous visit.

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