All Saints, Brixworth, Northants

The Bishop of Richborough consecrate a new Altar for the Lady Chapel in Saint Aidan’s Church, New Parks, Leicester

You spot the 14th c. spire from afar and expect this to be another typical medieval church; you are so wrong. There are plenty of churches round here built of the local ironstone but much of Brixworth is constructed of reused Roman bricks (tegulae), notably in the arches over the windows of the clerestory and the now-vanished side chapels (portici), which probably came from deserted and derelict Roman buildings in the Leicester area – but reassembled here in a version of the original style.

This reuse of Roman materials was done in the 10th c. at St Alban’s Abbey, but Brixworth is far earlier, possibly dating from the late 7th c. evangelization under Theodore of Tarsus, when a monastery was known to have been founded here. As an early minster, Brixworth church consisted of an aisled and clerestoried nave, with a western porch and eastern apse. Later generations removed the aisles, reconstructed the apse, and converted the porch into a tower by heightening it, adding an 11th c. stair turret and finally a Gothic spire.

You pass inside into the dignified and spacious interior, noting the Anglo-Saxon eagle (c.800) in the jamb to your left. To appreciate the size of the interior, walk down to the east end, turn and look west; framed by the massive piers of the arcades is the original Saxon entrance; above it are a blocked door into a vanished gallery and a later triple-arch Saxon window. Just remember that the original Saxon church was much larger than the present building.

Famously Brixworth was described by the great architectural historian, Sir Alfred William Clapham (1883–1950) as ‘perhaps the most imposing architectural memorial of the seventh century surviving north of the Alps’ (1930).

Other churches are buildings; Brixworth is a monument, or to express it better ‘monumental’. To use a modern American word: ‘Respect’.

Map reference SP 748707

Simon Cotton