Hawton Church – A Short Tour

Though the Domesday book notes that there was a mill, five manors, one priest and two churches in Holtone (as Hawton was then known), there is no evidence of these churches that survives. The earliest parts of the existing building are the north wall of the nave and the arcades, which date from the 13th century. The chancel was built in around 1320 by Sir Robert de Compton. There is a record from 1330 of a hermit living in the chapel of S.  Wilfrid, which is likely to have been in the area outside the north wall of the existing building. Sir Thomas Molyneux bought the manor house in the 15th century and added the tower and the clerestory windows. Sir Thomas' coat of arms can be found above the west door and on a shield held by an angel supporting a small plinth near the organ. Folk memory holds that during the Wars of the Roses Henry VII watched the battle of East Stoke (1487) from the newly-built tower. In the late 15th century the roof was raised and in the nave you can still see the outline of the original roof.

In the restoration of 1843-44 the carvings in the chancel were rediscovered under many layers of plaster and whitewash. A plaster copy of the Easter Sepulchre (including the tomb and doorway) was shown at Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition of 1851. The existence of such high quality carvings in a relatively large church in a very small village is a mystery, but it is thought that the masons who worked at Hawton may also have worked on Southwell Minster and that there may have been plans for Hawton to become a collegiate foundation.

Outside the church look at the gargoyles on the tower and the other carvings, including the woman with toothache and the mason with his mason's cap, and find the hole from a Civil war musket pellet in the West door.

Inside, the church is dominated by the large, clear East Window which was built around 1330. From the outside you can see how the curvilinear tracery in the window has absorbed the movement in the east wall.

The only stained glass in the church is a small pane of mediæval glass behind the organ.

There was once an altar at the east end of both the north and the south aisles. In each case the piscina, a stone sink that was used for washing the communion vessels, can be seen and a couple of ornate canopied statue niches remain in the south aisle.

The oak screen was probably installed in the late 15th century. Notice how the doorway in the screen is not in line with the central aisle reflecting the asymmetrical nature of the church. On the north side above the screen are the remains of the rood loft.

In the chancel note the double piscina in the south wall of the sanctuary. Look for the two musicians in the carving. On each side of the windows in the chancel are heads thought to represent Kings Edward II and Edward III and their queens Philippa and Isabella. Notice also how the priest’s door was built into the window as a later addition.

Next to the piscina is a fine sedilia. These seats were used by the priest and deacons during the Mass. In the carving above the seats look carefully for the pelican (though it looks more like a bird of prey to our eyes); it is a reminder of Christ shedding His blood. See also the two boys harvesting grapes (and one combing his hair at the same time), and saints being crowned by angels and identified by the objects they are holding:

S. Edmund – an arrow, S. Catherine – a wheel, S. Peter – a key, S. Clement – an anchor, S. Anne – a lily, S. Margaret of Antioch – a dragon on a lead and S. Mary Magdalene – a vase of ointment.

Now turn around and face the north wall of the chancel. Note the tomb which is probably that of Sir Robert de Compton (d 1330). This is unlikely to be its original position as the carving on the shield is partially obscured. At the back of the tomb is a hagioscope (or squint hole) which would have enabled a priest in the chapel that stood the other side of this wall to see the high altar.

Now, on the north wall of the sanctuary view the carving for which Hawton is so well known, the Easter Sepulchre. An Easter Sepulchre was used to hold the host (the bread from Holy Communion) from Maundy Thursday to Easter Day, the three days between Jesus' death and resurrection, in the recess at the back. The whole carving tells the story of Christ's death, resurrection and ascension although it suffered some depredation at the hands of Puritan Parliamentarian soldiers during the civil war in the 17th century.

At the bottom are the sleeping soldiers, guarding the tomb. In the centre we see Jesus risen from the dead with a wound in his side, and joined by his weeping mother and two other Marys with their boxes of ointments and spices. Note the two angels, one at each side. Looking up you can see the eleven disciples and Mary (the only one wearing shoes) looking up to heaven, the footprint where Jesus last stood and at the top the soles of Jesus’ feet as he ascends to heaven with the angels.

For more information and for pictures please visit https://www.friendsofhawtonchurch.org

A fuller history can be found here: http://southwellchurches.history.nottingham.ac.uk/hawton/hintro.php