All Saints' Church was probably built around A.D.680 as an outpost for the monastery at Peterborough. Famous for its Romanesque tiled arches and its ring crypt, the building still remains a mystery of who it was built for and why it was built larger than its present size.
Up to the sky
The tower was made higher in the 10th Century and the unique round stair turret was added at this time allowing easier access to its upper chambers. This structure probably replaced a wooden stair erected within the nave.
The spire was added around 1350 making the height of the structure in relation to the length of the nave fulfill the classic proportions required at that time. The nave is 150 feet long and the spire is 150 feet high to the tip of the weather vane.
The Tower has four bells hung in 1622, one in 1683 and a final one installed as a result of a church fabric appeal in 1993.
Photograph by Mike Cuthbert
In the 13th Century the Lady Chapel was added and some major alterations were made to the appearance of the nave. The largest change was the removal of a triple archway separating the nave from the presbytery. The start of the outer arches of this triple archway can be seen where plaster has been removed revealing the Romanesque tile structure.
The present day apse is in fact the third to be built in this place. The first apse was replaced fairly early and the ring crypt fell into disuse. In the Middle Ages a square ended chancel was built on the site of the apse. During the major restoration work undertaken by the Rev. C.F. Watkins, vicar from 1832 - 1873, the Chancel was pulled down and an apse of a similar plan to the original was built. This is the structure we see today.
The Ring Crypt
The ring crypt seen today as a circular trench following the outline of the apse outside in the graveyard, was originally roofed with a vaulted barrel ceiling and completely underground. It was possible that there was a chapel or crypt beneath "The Holy Place" in the apse where the Relic was kept. This crypt has not been discovered but could have been destroyed in an earlier restoration.
The entrances to the ring crypt can still be seen as arched doorways at a lower level than the present floor on either side of the archway leading to the apse.
A small (but heavy) carved and decorated stone box was found beneath the middle window of the Lady Chapel when some restoration work was being done to the plaster-work in 1821. When it was opened a wooden box was discovered containing a fragment of bone wrapped in cloth. The cloth disintegrated leaving the mystery of what it was, who put it there and why.
The wooden box gave a clue with a carved inscription 15**TB just decipherable. These are believed to be the initials of Thomas Bassenden, the last chantry priest, and the date of sometime in 1500 when he had the Relic bricked up in the wall to preserve it for posterity. Whatever it was it was considered too important to be allowed to fall into the wrong hands for the possible desecration.
In some early parish documentation there are several references to guilds of St Boniface and in wills and accounts referring to festivities around St. Boniface Day (5th June). This connection with an early Christian who was born in Credition, Devon, travelled to Europe as a missionary, later became the Bishop of Mainz and was martyred in his own Cathedral, is just a bit suspicious.
Could it be that when he was martyred, someone acquired his Larynx bone and brought this important treasure back to Brixworth? It was considered in these early Christian times important to have some connection with a known holy person. It follows that this importance is given to the place where the relic is kept hence the references to guilds of St. Boniface and the keeping of his festival day.
The Brixworth Eagle
When passing through the 12th Century entrance, in the wall on the left is an eagle engraved into the stone. "The Brixworth Eagle" as it has become to be known, is a rather stylised bird which is of come historical interest. One theory is that it is a mason's mark belonging to a family or group who were responsible for the principle construction of the church. If this is so, there is no other record of this device being used.
More likely the eagle is on a stone that was originally used in a Roman Building (there was a Roman villa just north of the Church) which prior to that was an emblem for a legion. It is hoped that one day this could be proved by removing the stone from the wall to discover what was on its reverse side.
In the 8th Century, many synods were held though out Europe to organise and establish the Early Church. In the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, it is mentioned that one place that these synods were held was Clofesho. Although the actual location of Clofesho is not known it is believed to the somewhere in Central England.
It is just possible that the small community ordered to be set up by Saxulf in the late 7th Century was at Brixworth and the Church already started was completed on a grand scale to accommodate these important early church synods.
You may also find the website of the Brixworth Historical society interesting, it can be found at www.brixworthhistory.org
There is also a Brixworth Village website that you may find interesting at www.brixworth.org.uk. and a friends of Brixworth Church site that gives more details about this wonderful old church. This can be found at www.friendsofbrixworthchurch.org.uk
Extract taken from Brixworth a Village Appraisal
© Copyright 1994 Brixworth Village Appraisal Committee
Reproduced with permission.