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Churches & Chapels

Prior to the 6th century AD Anglo Saxon England was a largely pagan country, with many gods and superstitions and widespread local variations.  It is believed that Christianity only took hold in the 6th century when Pope Gregory the Great sent Saint Augustine and a group of missionaries to convert the country and progress was steadily made until the pagan Vikings invaded at the end of the 8th century.  Gradually the Vikings converted to Christianity and the Normans, who invaded and triumphed in 1066, had been Christians for a long time so the period of disruption ended and Christianity took a strong hold in England.

 

The first Christians in England were Roman Catholics under the authority of the Pope and this remained the state of play until the 1530s when Pope Clement VII refused to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  As a result Henry divorced the country from Roman Catholicism and the Church of England was established as the main religion with the king as head of the church in England.

St. Mary The Blessed Virgin

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The church of St Mary the Blessed Virgin on Church Lane was the first church to be built in Osgathorpe. 

 

It is recorded that the church was founded at the very beginning of the 13th century, and was recorded in the Matriculus of 1220 under the name of Angodstonas as a ‘chapelry of Whitwick’ under the supervision of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln.

When the church (or chapelry) was first built it would have been a much simpler structure than at present, possibly at first only a small hut like structure.  However at some point it was aggrandised and converted to a stone building using grey igneous uncoursed rubble (local Charnwood granite) with string course and buttresses. It would have had a simple rectangular layout with the chancel at the eastern end where the altar is and a long nave to accommodate the worshippers, though with no seating at this stage.  However, under the influence of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) long services with sermons lasting between 2 and 4 hours were encouraged so pews were introduced to sustain the congregations during these marathon events.

Osgathorpe’s church has undergone many enhancements over the years. In 1675-1677 it was substantially repointed and reroofed in local slate, which is not surprising as by this time it was already well over 300 years old.  In 1700 a new bell was commissioned at the grand cost of less than £4.

 

It was then extensively restored again in the second half of the 19th century at a cost of £800 which was raised by the parish.  The ‘Building News’ of January 1862 reported that ‘care has been taken to preserve its original character’ and indeed this has been the objective and regulated requirement for any enhancements and repairs required up to the present day.

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An Engraving Of St Mary's Church c.1795

taken from The History And Antiquities Of The County Of Leicestershire by John Nichols

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As part of the 19th century enhancements a polygonal apse was added behind the altar including some particularly fine stained glass windows which look magnificent with the morning sun shining through them.

A bell turret in wood and a spire covered in lead were also added.  The floor of the main body of the church and apse were laid with patterned tessellated tiles sourced from Coalville. Note the spire in this C. 1860 drawing.

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In the first half of the 20th century a stone tower and vestry were added.  The vestry is where the clergy would change into their ceremonial clothes for church services and where they could conduct administrative functions.  Part of this area was converted to form kitchen and toilet facilities early in the 21st century. The tower contains two bells which would originally have been rung by hand but at the present day are rung by a clockwork mechanism.

One of the quirkiest features of the church is a squint or hagioscope in the south wall.  In churches with a side nave, this would have been used so that the congregation in the side nave could see the altar through it and therefore the Elevation of the Host.  However, as Osgathorpe has no side nave it can only be presumed that it was incorporated so that ‘unworthy people’ not allowed in the church could view the altar from outside the church.  

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On the same wall are positioned two piscanae, which were used in the Middle Ages by the priest to wash his fingers.  Beyond the squint and the priests stall there is a curious and most uncomfortable looking sedilla (stone seat) for two deacons.

On the north wall are memorials to two Osgathorpe residents, both called Smith, who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars.  There is also, on the north wall, a memorial tablet to Thomas Harley, Osgathorpe’s most famous resident who created the Harley school (now the village hall) and it is reputed that he was buried in the church.  As a memorial to the last headmaster of the school, blue mosaic tiles were laid in the baptistery, which are possibly not the most aesthetically pleasing addition to the general beauty of the church and perhaps clash somewhat with the restored ancient octagonal font.

Two large paintings hang in the church, depicting the Last Supper and the Adoration of the Shepherds, but time has dulled them and they are not as vibrant as perhaps they once would have been.  And finally the imposing organ was added in 1950.  It is considered to be of an unusually fine quality for such a small church and the acoustics of the church make it a beautiful sound to hear.

The church has a surrounding graveyard and the oldest decipherable surviving gravestone dates back to 1685.  There are ancient memorials lining the path to the church doors, with their inscriptions still visible.  For those interested in the various legible inscriptions please refer to detailed documentation by Samuel Stewart which may be found in the 'From Asgothporp To Osgathorpe' document at the https://www.samueltstewart.com/osgathorpe website.  The descendants of some of those remembered in the churchyard still live in the village, confirming the sense of community through the ages that the church represents. This was closed for burials in 1873 as no more graves could be accommodated and a new graveyard was established in Breedon Lane, just outside of the village.  Ashes may still be buried/scattered in the graveyard so it does have an on-going use.

 

The church was granted Grade 11 listed status in 1965.

The church and village had their own rector and he lived in the rectory opposite the church after this was built in 1851-61, although it is thought there was a prior dwelling for this use beside the church.  As the size of congregations shrunk and the need of funds for maintenance of churches in nearly every town and village grew, Osgathorpe Rectory, like many more across the land, was sold into private ownership and remains so today.

 

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It is amazing to consider that a village the size of Osgathorpe could ever have sustained its own church with all its associated costs plus a rectory and a dedicated rector but times have changed and its small but dedicated current congregation struggle to cope with the fall off in church attendance and the maintenance of a church which is now over 800 years old.

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

In light of the size of the village it is perhaps surprising that at one stage it had not only a Church of England church but also a Methodist chapel, built in 1835.

 

Methodism originated in America in the early 18th century and gradually spread to England more as an attempt by John Wesley to reform the Church of England rather than a religion in its own right, but as these attempts at reform failed it established itself as a separate religion.

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It is recorded that there was a Methodist Society in Osgathorpe early in the 19th century.   However, as a Methodist Society was established in Griffydam by 1761, it is possible that Methodists in Osgathorpe were also meeting in private houses from around this time.  By 1835 the movement had grown considerably in strength and numbers and a Methodist chapel was built on the corner of Chapel Lane opposite Snarrows Lane under the ‘Ashby-de-la-Zouch Circuit’ with numerous travelling ministers who moved among the surrounding villages.  

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The Chapel existed until 1962 when it was closed and reportedly purchased by a local farmer for potato storage.  The site remained derelict until Osgathorpe Parish Council adopted the ground and placed the Osgathorpe stone on the site

Up until the First World War, for many centuries the churches and chapels across the land had provided a mixing pot for members of local societies at all levels and at all ages, and of course there were many social and fund raising events in which villagers were happy to participate as few other social opportunities existed outside the public houses.

 

However, after the First World War there was a significant decline in religious observance and this intensified after the Second World War as people became more affluent and had other means of social interaction and many other interests.

 

Osgathorpe has its own dedicated communion service on the first Sunday of each month.  However these days it is closely allied with the neighbouring churches in its ‘benefice’ which comprises Osgathorpe, Belton, Long Whatton, Diseworth, Hathern and Kegworth and joint services are held in each church every month when the congregation is swelled from its normal complement of around 6 people to as many as 35!

 

At first sight our much loved church might seem of slightly odd proportions with what seems to be a curiously high pitched roof in proportion to its length and breadth.  However despite its unprepossessing external appearance, on entering the church visitors invariably comment on its charm and beauty.  But perhaps its greatest asset is its pervading aura of spirituality, tranquillity and peace.

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