More on Stow

In my last post I excused my absence from blogging, I’ve been quite busy in the parish over the last few weeks. I’ve been particularly occupied with arrangements for the solemn Eucharist for Candlemas that was held in the glorious surroundings of Stow Minster.  I’ve been putting off posting about Stow Minster, but having given you that tantalising glimpse of this building, I thought I might say a bit more about the place.

Stow Minster, Lincolnshire

Stow Minster, the parish church of St Mary the Virgin of Stow, is an extremely important building.  It’s a building that dominates the small village to the north of Lincoln that surrounds it – in fact it dominates the whole countryside around it. The name Stow means ‘holy place’ and the village was an important centre for christian mission and worship from the Anglo-Saxon period.  Stow was so important in former times that many of the villages around it have ‘by Stow’ added to their place names – Coates by Stow, Sturton by Stow, Willingham by Stow, Normanby by Stow.

By tradition the first church on this site was built in the late seventh century at a spot where St Etheldreda rested for a time while on a journey.  The legend is that she planted her walking stick in the ground and it blossomed into a tree and in due course the church was built beside it.  Stow is often identified as Sidnacaester, the cathedral of the Anglo-Saxon diocese of Lindsey, but that identification is possible, but sadly unprovable. 

Stow Minster, Lincolnshire

What we do know, is that by the tenth and eleventh century there was already a major church building, of the present proportions, on this site.  In the last quarter of the tenth century, Bishop Aelfnoth of Dorchester is believed to have constructed a substantial church building to serve as a Minster for the northern part of his vast diocese.  The earliest parts of the present structure, the walls of the transepts, were probably part of that building or of work completed in the early eleventh century.  In the twenty years before the Norman Conquest bishop Eadnoth II did some further work to the church, with the finanical assistance of Leofric Earl of Mercia and his wife Lady Godiva.  In 1054 Eadnoth raised this new church to be a Minster of secular canons and endowed it with property.  His intention being to establish it as a base from which he could oversee the northern part of his vast diocese.
Stow Minster, Lincolnshire

The monumental round arches of the central crossing probably date from Eadnoth’s episcopate.

In 1073 bishop Remigius of Dorchester, moved his see to Lincoln and Stow ceased to be an important administrative centre and the minster foundation probably failed.   However the religious life of Stow was revived by Remigius, who moved Benedictine monks from Eynsham in Oxfordshire to Stow, to establish a priory.  As part of that work he constructed the present nave. 
Stow Minster, Lincolnshire
The priory was to be short-lived, the monks were quickly moved back south by Remigius’ sucessor, bishop Robert Bloet and Stow minster became a parish church, which it remains.  The endownment was transferred to two prebendal stalls in Lincoln cathedral.   

Stow Minster, Lincolnshire

That’s not the end of the story.  The bishops of Lincoln owned a manor in Stow and they established a palace there.  The palace of Stow Park was a favourite country retreat of sucessive bishops, including bishop Hugh of Avalon, St Hugh.  It was at Stow that St Hugh made friends with the swan that was to become his attribute.  The bishops of Lincoln continued to lavish money on Stow Minster, and at some point towards the end of the twelfth century, perhaps even during Hugh’s tenure, they rebuilt the present chancel of the parish church. 

Stow Minster, Lincolnshire

Very little has been added to the building since.  The central tower was rebuilt in the fifteenth century and strengthened with new arches set within the Saxon arches. Perpendicular windows were inserted into the east and west ends, but little else was done to the structure.

Stow Minster, Lincolnshire

By the early nineteenth century the building had become seriously dilapidated, and in the 1850s and 60s it was restored under the direction of J L Pearson, who removed some of the later accretions including the Perpendicular windows. In the chancel, the first part of his restoration he inserted a rib vault in place of the late medieval timber ceiling.

Stow Minster, Lincolnshire Stow Minster, Lincolnshire Stow Minster, Lincolnshire
Stow Minster, Lincolnshire Stow Minster, Lincolnshire

Sadly the future of this important and venerable building is at considerable risk.  The Pearson restoration has come to the end of its natural life and now considerable work needs to be done to the building both internally and externally.  The small and devoted congregation have already managed to raise sufficient money to repair the transept roofs, but the great roofs of the nave and chancel now need urgent attention.  The full cost of this work is around three million pounds, far more than the tiny parish are capable of raising.  So what will happen?  Well one very real possibility is that this building of national importance, will cease to be a parish church and that the long tradition of christian witness and worship in this place will be lost.  A very sad future for a glorious and inspiring building that simply comes alive when used as it was intended, for the Eucharist.

7 thoughts on “More on Stow

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  1. Canon Tallis said…Since there does not seem to be a Leave Your Comment place on the post on Stow, I am leaving it here. The Church is beautiful, majestic and should be considered a treasure by all who think or call themselves Anglicans all over the world. It must be rescued and we surely are bring that about. I am a complete clutz at things like the internet or charities – especially the British charity law – but there should be someone in the Anglican community who could create a charity and a trust to raise the money world wide. When we come to England we don't want to see ruins or historic building placed in some sort of National Trust for Poor Parishes, but living reminders of the great faith and treasury that the English church has bestowed upon the whole of the English speaking world. There certainly should be enough loyal and faithful Anglicans, establishment and otherwise who could spare one pound or ten to save and repair this building. We need a website and someone to set up a trust so that donations can be received and used to keep this and restore this historic Church. I realize, Allan, from the fewer posts made since taking up your new post that you are going to be an especially busy priest and maybe unable to do any more than you have done by this one post, but I am hoping that others who read this blog and don't want to see these treasure destroyed will pitch in and volunteer their particular talents to do what we can. We should remember that time is a very precious commody and we all have so little of it these days. So who will volunteer to help keep this noble church up and living for the next thousand years.


  2. Apologies to all. For some reason I disabled the comments box, though I'm not quite sure how I managed to do that. Canon Tallis, I've posted your message where it belongs. I think you are quite right, this church is not just a national treasure but a building of international importance, both architecturally, spiritually and culturally. There are few buildings that trace their roots so directly back to the early days of the faith in this island. A building that was of major importantance well before Lincoln Cathedral was established. The care for a building of this significance should be the responsibility of the whole church, not just the local church. Sadly since the Reformation the burden has fallen full square on the local congregation. The parishioners were all for demolishing it in the 1850s and had it not been for the effort of George Atkinson the rector in face of opposition, it would have gone. So its future has always been precarious. Sadly things are rather better now, the congregation love and appreciate the building. There is a trust, the Friends of Stow Minster, established to promote awarenss of the building and to raise funds. If anybody is willing to contribute directly to the restoration I can let them know how to do so. A number of lines of enquiry have been pursued and sufficient funding has been found to repair the transept roofs, but there is a great shortfall. What I would appreciate is for people to promote and make the minster known. It is in a bit of a backwoods and people don't know about it. Secondly I would gratefully receive suggestions as to any other lines of enquiry we might pursue to secure further funding.


  3. Alan – Thank you so much for the excellent (as always) photos of Stow. I have known of the building through the usual architectural histories, but never had seen such a good representation as this brief essay on this noble building.My own parish is struggling to save – and use – a redundant church nearby that has similar problems, but noble architecture and a history of prayerful use.


  4. I was in the process of writing an inquiry as to whether the east end arcading is an original feature, which, from your scans, it seems to be, or Pearson's work, but the 18th c drawing of the chancel on your Fickr site makes it clear that it is original. Beautiful feature. Fine to have this much of a building with a direct connection to St Hugh.


  5. I gather Pearson based the east wall on “evidence” he found while on the project, though there had been a large Perpendicular window inserted at a later date that he removed.


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