An overview of the history of St. Mary’s Church, Stebbing.
St Mary’s Church is Grade One listed. The current building dates entirely from the 14th Century. The Historic England listing suggests a date of 1360 for the building, but much evidence points to an earlier date than this, notably recorded by Nicolas Pevsner in his book “The buildings of England – Essex” 1954, where he points to the decoritive forms of tracery of the windows and the early 14th Century style of the sedilia and piscina.
The Rev C.E. Livesey (Vicar of Stebbing 1920 – 1930) settled on a date of 1324 in his history of Stebbing Church published in 1924. Excavations in the vestry in September 1993 uncovered a number of burials, and clear evidence of the foundations of a previous building that stood on the site, which extend under the current north wall of the chancel and the east wall of the north aisle; indicating that a large, significant church pre-dates the current 14th Century building.
The interesting double piscina and one of the sedilia arches in the chancel
The rood screen
One of the chief architectural glories of St Mary’s is the stone rood screen that fills the Chancel arch. It consists of three smaller arches and richly carved canopy work. Only three examples of this style of screen exist, and Stebbing is the earliest example. The other examples are in Great Bardfield, and Trondheim Cathedral in Norway.
In the 15th Century, the screen suffered considerable mutilation to admit a wooden screen, which was erected on the East (Chancel) side of the stone screen. Access to the top of the wooden screen was granted by a door in the north wall of the Chancel, which can still be seen, along with the remains of the stairs up within the vestry. The stairs in the South wall of the nave most likely connected with this rood screen, passing over a canopy covering a chapel in the south aisle. It may be noted that the pulpit is made from old oak, suspected to be taken from the 15th Century wooden screen when it was removed in the 17th/18th Century.
The Stone rood screen was heavily restored and rebuilt in 1884. It was noted by the Rev. C.E. Livesey in 1924 that they soon hoped to complete the rood by instating the two missing statuettes missing from the plinths either side of the central cross. Almost a hundred years on and these figures are still missing! Evidence of the rebuilding of the rood screen in 1884 is all throughout the church; chunks of fine faced stone removed during the repairs sit on may window sills and the credence table in the North East corner of the Chancel consists of two original stones with grotesque figures that came from the springing of the arch in the rood screen.
The doorway, now blocked, that granted access to the 15th Century wooden screen.
The credence table, made from ORIGINAL stone of the rood screen.
The Font is Octagonal, with a panelled stem, dating from the 15th Century. The cover is of fine oak, and has a plaque dedicated to The Rev. A. R. Bingham Wright, 31 Years vicar of this parish, died June 12 1906 and Mary Sophia Cecily Bingham, his Daughter, Who died Nov 26 1905.
The Font currently stands at the East end of the North Aisle. It was moved to it’s current location in 2000, having previously stood at the West end of the South Aisle, by the South door. It is recorded that prior to the internal re-ordering in 1884, the font stood in the middle of the Chancel.
The main entrance to the church is through the South door of the nave. The porch stands at this entrance. Standing in the porch, you can see the original dripstone, which shows that the porch roof was raised up from a gable roof to it’s current flat configuration. The brickwork that raises this roofline dates to the 16th Century.
The porch was refurbished in 1923, where the East window was repaired. The current west window had a brick cross inserted at some point, most likely to stop people climbing through the opening. Inside the porch there is the broken remains of a stoup for holy water.
There are well worn holes over the door, probably a socket for a perpendicular bar to secure the door. It would seem from the groove on the arch that the doors opened inward to the porch at one time.
Graffiti in St Mary's Church
Below are examples of just some of the graffiti to be found in Stebbing church. Some of which dates back to about the 15th Century!
Medieval graffiti is often seen as a lost voice, it represents many different things including prayers for the sick and the dead. There are heraldic badges, including a De Bourchier knot and The DeVere mullet. There are games of 3 men’s Morris, compass drawn designs, which were thought to be associated with ritual protection, a family leaving a prayer request, to ward off evil or ill fortune, and there are prayers to Mary.
Here are some examples of what you can see.