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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Blessed Virgin Mary and St Leodegarius

Ashby St Ledgers, church, Virgin Mary and St Leodegarius

The Catesby family used to worship at this peaceful old church, in the manor of Ashby St Ledgers.  The Catesbys were wealthy landowners in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire and, in 1375, the manor passed to them by marriage, from the Cranfords.  Sir William Catesby was councillor to King Richard III, fought alongside him at the Battleof Bosworth in 1485 – and was beheaded for his trouble.  For a short while, the Catesbys lost their estates; but these were returned in 1498.  In 1508, the family sold a little property of theirs – Althorp – to the Spencers (who still live in it).  Life went on.  Then, over a very short period of 70 years or so, England transformed from a staunchly Roman Catholic society into a mainly Protestant one in which Catholics had become a persecuted minority.  Catholics in later Tudor England could not legally hear Mass, be baptised or married according to Catholic rite, or receive the sacrament on their death-bed.  Holding public office was subject to taking the Oath of Supremacy, swearing allegiance to the monarch as the supreme head of the Church of England.  It was easy for 16th century English Catholics to be traitors, the penalty for which was death.

Ashby St Ledgers, church, Virgin Mary and St Leodegarius, manor house, gatehouse

Nevertheless, die-hard Catholics throughout the land hung onto their beliefs.  Recusancy – a label for Catholics originating from a refusal to attend Anglican services - was strong amongst some of the older families, particularly in the north, west and English midlands – including the Catesbys.  And it was Robert Catesby, a charismatic fanatic, who planned the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605.  Much of the planning for what we would today have considered a barbaric terrorist attack, followed by a coup d’├ętat, took place in the manor’s gatehouse, just next door to the church.  After Guy Fawkes was taken in the early hours of 5th November, six of the plotters, including Catesby, met that evening on the outskirts of Ashby St Ledgers, before galloping off in a vain attempt to gather sympathisers to their lost cause.  So Ashby St Ledgers was where the gunpowder plotters plotted; they would have known this church.

Ashby St Ledgers, church, Virgin Mary and St Leodegarius

By 1611, the Catesbys had gone from Ashby St Ledgers.  After passing through various hands, in 1903 the manor was purchased by Ivor Guest, Viscount Wimborne.  It was sold by his son, fell into disrepair, and the house was re-purchased by his grandson, another Ivor Guest and the 4th Viscount Wimborne.  It is not open to the public; the wider estate is now owned by the Crown.

Medieval, frescos, Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire

Back to the church.  It dates from the 12th century, but is mostly 14th and 15th centuries.  St Leodegarius, Leodegar – or Leger – was a 7th century Bishop of Autun, who had his eyes gouged and his tongue cut out, before later being murdered.  It was tough being a bishop in those days.  What he had to do with the small village of Ascebi (Ashby) is anyone’s guess.

Ashby St Ledger, stained glass, east window

The church has an astonishing number of medieval wall paintings, including a depiction of the flagellation of St Margaret dated at 1325, 14th and 15th century frescos illustrating the Passion above the chancel, a 15th century fresco of St Christopher and a 16th century cartoon, apparently representing the Black Death, posing as the sexton.  Can you imagine what a cheerful place this must have been, once upon a time?

St Leodegarius, 16th century rood screen, medieval church pews, Northampton

There is a beautiful carved rood screen from 1500, installed by George Catesby in thanks for the return of the estate in 1498.  The pews at the front of the church are 14th century; the box pews and the triple pulpit are 17th century.  There are brasses, including several commemorating members of the Catesby family, that have somehow survived the centuries.

Overall, the church at Ashby St Ledgers is a treasure-trove.  I particularly liked the lovely 19th century east window, which depicts the nativity, the risen Christ and the three Marys at the tomb.

Manor house, Ashby St Ledgers, Viscount Wimborne

Despite the puritanical plainness of the church today, it has a huge amount of atmosphere.  The surviving frescos hint at what it may have looked like when Robert Catesby’s parents were married there.  I wonder what he would make of it all now?  Standing in the peace of his old family church, visions of the carnage that would have ensued had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded seem particularly offensive to me.  Yet Catholics, Protestants and others were cruelly treated all over Europe.  Four hundred years on, a Catholic is still unable to be monarch in the United Kingdom – for the simple reason that the monarch is head of the Church of England.  But Britain is now a largely secular society; like all civilised countries, it is justifiably proud of a religious tolerance that allows all faiths to worship and for everyone (in theory) to be equal under the Law.  However, thousands have died along the way and bigotry, still present in some quarters, is easily inflamed.  I like to think that the ghosts in Ashby St Ledgers would be profoundly sad, and worried, that there are yet those in the 21st century who exhibit a frighteningly medieval mindset of violence, cruelty and unreasoning fanaticism, often based on a warped religious doctrine.

For more about the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Leodegarius, visit Ashby St LedgersChurch website.

For a bit about the Gunpowder Plot, check out Where the Gunpowder Plotters plotted.




Manor house, Ashby St Ledgers, Viscount Wimborne

Sharing with InSPIREd Sunday.

30 comments:

  1. Now that is a place I would like to visit, that will certanly go on my Bucket list

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  2. so much torture and death in the name of religion. now and then.

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  3. I believe Karen Armstrong has a new book out on the subject called "Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence".

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  4. Amazing history in that place. I'd love to pay a visit.

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  5. And yet another wonderful tour you have given us!

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  6. Wow - I really like the architectural photos, Mike. And, of course, there is no better tongue-in-cheek tour guide! I was thinking the same thing about religious persecution and fanaticism. Not a whole lot has changed!

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  7. Thank you for sharing. That window is gorgeous!

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  8. Fascinating history. Your posts and pictures really bring it all alive.

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  9. Another wonderful post, Mike. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  10. Well, you know how excited I get about medieval wall-paintings and these are some I'd really like to visit someday. I'm also wondering what St Ledger had to do with a horse-race.

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    1. Nothing! It was named after Major-General Anthony St Leger apparently.

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  11. Hi Mike, the architecture and history is amazing. Tom The Backroads Traveller

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  12. Wonderful stain glass windows and great history behind the church.

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  13. Thanks, Mike, for another fascinating visit.

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  14. OK...you have carried me back through the centuries so beautifully, filled my mind with the gruesome images of this place's troubled past, and given me a great perspective on England's history. I am so grateful for this awesome post! Such an interesting church and gatehouse, so filled with historic importance. And it is SO lovely with all it's added adornments over the years, yet kept simple and beautiful. Love the stone. Love the stained glass. Well, it's an incredible church and if I ever get to England, it will be on my list! Wonderful!

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  15. Gruesome wall paintings, fascinating church.

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  16. This was so interesting and I appreciate all the history you have shared with us, and certainly agree with your comments. Here in the States we do not have all these centuries of history where one can stand in a place like this and remember what has gone before and ponder and wonder what those people would think about how it is today. Thanks for sharing this.

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  17. This is one that is on my patch so will have to take a look see next time I am around that area. The pews - oh wow! So rare to see these now and to think that they are 14th century! Thanks for a great tour and history lesson once again Mike. Take care.

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  18. Interesting..."warped religious doctrine"

    I wonder if any of the horror perpetrated over the centuries has anything to do with the doctrine of the religions themselves...or only the way they were corrupted to fit the bigotry and greed of those who espoused them.

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  19. Such strong history with this church. Once again....I would love to visit!

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  20. Great shots Mike and an even better post! Lots of 'food for thought' there!
    All the best,

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  21. Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing.

    Diana
    http://adifferentlenslens365.blogspot.co.nz/2014/11/first-church.html

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  22. That's a wonderful building with quite a past. Thanks for the info along with the photos.

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  23. Dear Mike,

    I am smitten with the British landscape, the history and the people. These images only evoke in me a desire to go back to Europe (which I will be doing in June - to France) and to discover my linguistic heritage. Oh the history encrusted in these old walls! Magnificent share and thank you kindly for coming AND leaving me a comment! Anita

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  24. As one who has hosted a Guy Fawkes party/bonfire more than once, I found this fascinating, Mike. I didn't know this was the location of the plotting. As far as violence in the name of religion goes, conversion at the point of a sword was never a great idea. I love all the history of English churches. They're so interesting to visit and yet so many keep a pretty low profile, so to speak, that they're often overlooked. Love this post.

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  25. If I was ever able to visit your fair land, surely I would not get very far, very fast. For I could endless hours in places like that, and you-all have an abundance of them.

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  26. Unfortunately, there are still those willing to do evil and violence in the name of God. I never understood that. I'm glad you and I live in places where we are free to worship, or not, in the manner we choose.

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  27. This looks like a really interesting place to visit, I shall have to add it to my list. I visited Coughton Court at the weekend. It is home to the Throckmortons who were heavily involved in The Gunpowder Plot. I have my own post on The Gunpowder Plot scheduled for later today.

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  28. I've never been to Britain. Your pics are beautiful

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.