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Church of St. Mary the Virgin - History

History of St. Mary the Virgin Church

11th Century - Present Day

St Mary’s is a picturesque country church dating back to Norman times. The actual date of its construction is not known however it is recorded that the patronage of St Mary’s went with the Manor and was included in the donation of the Manor from William, Earl of Mortain, to the Abbey of Grestain in 1189.


Church of St. Mary the Virgin looking from the south, showing the tower with the Polygonal Turret Staircase

As is inevitable with such an old buildings the church has been changed through the ages and much of the surviving building is in the Decorated style (c.1290-c.1350), the north aisle dates from the early 13th century and the tower from the 15th century. The exterior of the tower has a polygonal turret staircase.  

The church also contains many interesting monuments in memory of the FitzRoys, descended from Charles II.
There is a fine east window in memory of The Rev. Barwick John Sams, rector for 47 years, and fragments of mediaeval glass in one of the south windows.
Outside, the churchyard is a peaceful haven. Snowdrops and aconites abound in winter,and are quickly followed by violets and primroses.

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Medieval Wooden Panel depicting 'The Kiss of Judas'

The Medieval Panel of 'The Kiss of Judas'

An unusual event took place in the church on the 14th May 2005 when a Consistory Court Hearing took place. The PCC had requested permission from the Council for the Care of Churches to sell the remains of a wooden screen / panel depicting ‘The Kiss of Judas', part of the 'Passion of Christ' cycle. The funds were required to carry out long outstanding maintenance work in this ancient building. The Council refused the request so the PCC then asked for a court hearing to take place. The judgement of the court was found in favour of the PCC.

The panel was sold to the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge who restored it and put it on display. As part of the agreement, a replica panel was commissioned and now hangs in  the spot where the original panel once hung. Read more about the panel here.


Reproduction of the Medieval Screen depicting 'The Kiss of Judas', now hanging in the Church in place of the original

Sir John Woodville

Woodvilles living in Northamptonshire can be traced back to the reign of Henry II. Of most interest in St Mary’s is Sir John Woodville, who rose to the rank of Sheriff of Northampton and who built the tower at the west end of the church.  
Sir John was great grandfather to Elizabeth Woodville who secretly married Edward IV in Grafton on 1st May 1464.  
The altar tomb of freestone to the memory of John Woodville is St Mary’s most important monument. Deeply incised in the alabaster top is the figure of a man in full armour, his head resting on a crested great helmet supported by two angels, and with his feet against a lion. It is 
listed by Churchcare as one of the top 100 church treasures in U.K


Alabaster top of the Tomb of Sir John Woodville


Tomb of Sir John Woodville

The marginal inscription to the slab is in Latin and, translated, reads:  
"Under the mercy of God, this stone covers under itself John Wydeville, who made the belltower; have mercy. O God, and as you have mercy grant help, O my God, and your Mother as well. Amen"
The adjacent altar tomb, also in the Gothic style, although without any inscription, appears to be of a similar age and is likely to be of another member of the Woodville family.


Woodville Family Tree

Monuments to members of the FitzRoy family

St Mary’s Church contains many monuments erected in memory of the FitzRoys descended from Henry FitzRoy, son of Charles II by his mistress, Barbara Villiers. Monuments to those whose names are in blue in the family tree below may be found in the church or churchyard.


Family Tree identifying FitzRroy memorials in St. Mary's Church

The marble monument to Charlotte Maria, Countess of Euston, was created by the renowned sculptor, John Flaxman.  It carries the inscription:
"To the memory of Charlotte Maria Countess of Euston, second daughter of James Earl of Waldegrave Born Oct.11th 1761  Buried in this church February 8th. 1808, whose virtue rendered her the object of the tenderest affection during life,and affords the most consoling hopes of her eternal happiness to her surviving husband, by whom this monument is erected".


Another notable monument is that of Vice Admiral Robert FitzRroy, the scientist who travelled with Charles Darwin as the Captain of HMS Beagle, and pioneer of weather forecasting. See some of these here:


Other Interesting Memorials and Plaques

There are many other interesting Memorials on the walls of the Church, including War Memorials, Bell Peals and a visit in the Year 2000 by HRH Prince Charles to celebrate the planting of the Woodville Oak, the re-opening of the Village Hall and the launch of the book 'Grafton Regis' - all Millenium Projects. More information on the Bells and War Memorial can be found in the relevant sections.

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As well as memorials to the FitzRoys, there are several memorials to the Sams family in St Mary’s. The east window is dedicated to the remarkable Barwick John Sams, born 1803 and died 1885. In the chancel a brass plate has been placed in memory of his son. It is inscribed:  
"In loving memory of Charles Dawson Sams, R.N.R. aged 41 years who was lost whilst in command of the “Bokhara” which was wrecked off the coast of the Pescadores on the 10th Oct. 1892  And there was no more sea. Rev 21"


East Window dedicated to Barwick John Sams

The east window in Munich glass is dedicated to Barwick John Sams, rector from 1837 until his death in 1885. The east window was restored and fitted with a blaze of stained glass made in Munich depicting scenes from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

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Other stained glass windows in the Church


The stained glass in this window is thought to be medieval in age at the west end of the Nave

Norman Font

An ancient tub-shaped Norman font stands at the west end of the Nave


Norman font at west end of the Nave

The Church Tower

On the way up the narrow staircase, carved in a window opening, is a curious face, a mason’s doodle?  


Tower Staircase

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Curious Face carved in Tower Staircase

Carved into the lead roofing to the tower are yet more doodles adding interestingly to the history of St. Mary’s.       

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Outside Wall of the Church

There are also some interesting carvings on the Outside walls of the Church, including two of the nione Mass dials on the South wall.

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Can you help keep our historic Church open?

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Grafton Regis is steeped in history and contains some nationally important artifacts. However due to the small size of the village the current Church income alone is insufficient to keep it open and to restore / maintain the important artifacts including the medieval tomb of Elizabeth’s grandfather, Sir John Woodville. If you can support us with a donation it would be much appreciated - you can use one of the methods below:

Support St Mary the Virgin Church - Grafton Regis - with easyfundraising:

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Plaque in the Porch of the Church near the South Entrance

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