I knew nothing at the Church before my visit and so was naturally surprised on my approach to see such a large church in such a small village. Upon my arrival I was enlightened as to why this was.
The first church on this site was built in 917 AD by Ethelfleda the daughter of King Alfred the Great. In those days the village was called Cyricbrig and was recorded as such in the Domesday Book of 1086 AD.
The Arrival of the Monks
After the Norman Conquest, King William gave vast areas of land to one of his knights, Geoffrey de la Guerche, a Breton, who had supported him in the invasion of England. Geoffrey rebuilt the ruined Saxon church and dedicated his new church to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Denis the Patron Saint of France. He also endowed it with a Benedictine prior and seven monks from the abbey of St Nicholas at Angers, France. In 1399 the Priory was transferred to the Carthusians of the Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire, and a war with France had caused the dedication of the church to be changed to St Edith, a Warwickshire Saint.
The Carthusian Order having been dissolved in 1538 the priory and its property was given to Thomas Mannyng, Bishop of Ipswich. In December 1546 the rectory and the advowson of the vicarage were granted by Henry VIII to his foundation of Trinity College, Cambridge, in whose possession they have continued.
The Building of the present Church
In 1350 the Black Death swept across Europe and killed half the population of Warwickshire, the Priory fell into ruin and in 1360 the prior and the monks petitioned Pope Innocent VI to grant them an indulgence to use the money collected to rebuild the church, much of which can still be seen today. The lower part of the tower and the porch are the most substantial evidence of the monks rebuilding programme. The monks had some new bells cast for the new tower and incredibly one of them has survived. The present fifth bell was cast at Worcester circa 1390 and so the same sound the monks heard as they called the faithful to worship 600 years ago is still ringing out over Monks Kirby today.
This is one of the oldest parts of the church and dates from the rebuilding of 1380. On the west wall there is a Latin inscription which translated states “Ye men and women pray for your souls”.
The Skipwith Chapel
On entering the church if you turn right and precede along the South Aisle you will reach the Skipwith Chapel. On the South wall is the hatchment of the Skipwith Coat of Arms. The Skipwith family lived in the nearby manor of Newbold Revel for over 200 years, until 1862. The state then had a variety of owners and in 1946 it was acquired by the Sisters of Charity of St Paul as a training college for teachers. On the east wall are two small panels carved with Coats or Shields of Arms and in the corner are the remains of a small Piscina. The Chapel now houses a statue of Our Lady and Baby Jesus which stood for many years in the convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Monks Kirky and was presented to the church when the convent was closed on the 2nd of April 1977. It serves as a reminder that the Sisters served this and neighbouring communities for 104 years.
As you face the Altar on your right, in the corner, is a piscina which was once used for washing sacred communion vessels. Next to it is a blocked doorway once used by priests and then a heavily restored triple Sedilia which enabled them to take a short rest during the long services. On the north wall are two Aumbries probably used to hold bread for Mass. High upon the wall is a King Charles II Coat of Arms erected to commemorate the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
The North Chapel
In the north east corner is an alabaster tomb of Sir William Fielding who died in 1547 and his wife Elizabeth. Both are clasping prayer books and have three rings on each hand. Note the family shield of three lozenges. The other tomb is to his son and heir Basil Fielding. Strangely his death, in 1585 is left blank on the edge of the tomb, but that of his wife in 1580 is recorded. Note the carvings of the children along the side of the tomb.
This is contemporary with the Victorian restoration. The organ was built by J. Walker of Brandon, Suffolk in 1868.
The Blocked Doorways and Small Windows
Along the north aisle are three blocked doorways a reminder of the location of the monk’s quarters. The monks would have had there own access to the church and the high doorway was probably from their sleeping area. The lower doors gave access to a cloister area which, although in ruin, existed up to 1840. There are also two small windows high in the Chancels north side which would have given the monk’s a view of the altar.
Along the north wall are memorials to the fallen of World War I and members of the Fielding family. In particular are two white marble monuments of very similar design, one to the 7th Earl of Denbigh, died 1865, and his wife, died 1847; the other is to Lady Augusta Fielding, died 1858; and between them three small tablets to other members of the family.
The clock, built by Valentine Hanbury of Northamptonshire in 1804, replaced an earlier clock of 687. The clock had stood in the Ringing Room of the Tower and was replaced in 1961.
The first reference to bells in Monks Kirby was in 1552 when six bells were recorded. The current tower possesses a fine ring of eight bells which were rehung in a new steel frame by John Taylor of Loughborough in 1921 and augmented by the addition of two new bells.
The Parish Chest
In here were once kept important documents such as wills, churchwardens’ accounts and priests’ vestments. Notice the number of keyholes that the chest could not be unlocked unless two keyholders were present.
The Stained Glass
Not all the stained glass has survived the year, which is to be expected of a church who such a long and eventful history. Stained glass is not the easiest to photograph but I have included some of my better shots in a slide show below:
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to St Edith, Monks Kirby and would like to write a few words of thank to John Illingworth who wrote ‘A Short Guide to St Edith’s Church’ and whose words I have used to form this post, Thank you.