St Sebastian’s Church, Great Gonerby, Lincolnshire – Gargoyles & Angels

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St Sebastian’s Church, Great Gonerby, Lincolnshire, another church which was well and truly locked, in May 2015, the same as on the first occasion that I tried to visit, in 2014.  I think actually that the exterior far out weighs the interior, from what I have read, although again it would be nice to make up my own mind.  Externally the 15th century builders added battlements and pinnacles to the roof line to give the building a uniform appearance. Below these, on the tower and clerestory, there is also a frieze of shields.   From what I have read that the earliest parts could be early 13c, the south arcade and the chancel.  Late Romanesque capitals on the eastern most bay of the north arcade suggest that there were transepts here that were superseded by the aisles. The north arcade is much taller than its southern counterpart and is in Perpendicular style.  The Late Romanesque capitals are worth a third visit, maybe one day.  The exterior is full of wonderful medieval gargoyles and grotesques,

There are some very interesting creatures on a frieze, although I only took a few photos, I’m sure that they must have a symbolic meaning, but as yet I have no idea.

The churchyard is full of fascinating headstones, including some “Belvoir Angels” winged angel faces, which are a type of early 18th century Swithland slate tombstone found in the district, named after the Vale of Belvoir, in the East Midlands.  

A little history ………The Belvoir Angel is a motif local to the Vale of Belvoir (Beever) and the Framland, in the East Midlands, carved in slate in the late 1600’s and first part of the 18th century. Usually found immaculately preserved on small slate headstones, it speaks of the blessing of God at the time of passing from the earthly to the heavenly state, with a protective angelic covering. A typical Belvoir Angel design has certain standard features, stylised as the following first photo.  

I found a lot of these angels in America and even one on the Isle of Lismore in Scotland.  There are highly decorative ones and the plainer ones are called Naive, which are the one I like most.

Dated 1719, a true Belvoir Angel Headstone.

A more ornate Belvoir Angel.

This angel is on stone and not slate, so is not a typical Belvoir, but still a nice angel.  It could be that the Belvoir Angels were expensive and some people copied them.

Again a more ornate Belvoir Angel.

An angel headstone, although not on slate.

A very ornate Belvoir Angel.




19 Replies to “St Sebastian’s Church, Great Gonerby, Lincolnshire – Gargoyles & Angels”

  1. That is a fantastic church! I could spend quite a while looking at all that detail. And then I would still have the graveyard to do. 🙂 I’ve seen angels like that, but didn’t know they were named. Actually, I’ve always thought of them as cupids. Now I know better. There is so much symbology woven into Christianity over the centuries, I’m learning new things all the time. Thanks for all the great photos, Lynne. 🙂

    1. So glad you enjoyed the visit Pat. I am also learning as I am going along, so much to take in. I was a bit fed up, that the church was locked, and so I thought, well they can’t stop me from photographing the outside 🙂

  2. I have wondered too what some of the meanings of those figures were.. I love those angels with the chubby cheeks,especially the ones on Mrs Grace stone. A magnificent old church, 😊

    1. Yes I often wonder about the figures, some I know, but a great many evade me 🙂 I love those little angel faces. I took hundreds of photos of them on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, I suppose thats because the settlers landed there 🙂

  3. A beautiful and interesting post, as usual, Lyn. I especially liked the last photo of the church and the headstones. Thanks for the interesting information about the
    Belvoir headstones. I have seen many on old cemeteries in the Eastern part of the US. I always learn something interesting from you.

    1. Thank you Bruce, glad you enjoyed the visit. I had a wonderful time on your east coast, taking hundreds of photos of these amazing headstones…..I still have to sort them all out from two years ago…..where does the time go 🙂

  4. I’m glad that you enjoyed your visit to our church, and sorry that you couldn’t get in, especially as we display a list of key holders on the outside notice board! I hope you come again. If you, or anyone else, would like to visit us, please message me on our facebook page and we will do our best to welcome you, and let you in! I didn’t know they were Belvior Angels either, probably a lot more at our sister church, All Saints Barrowby, which looks over the vale.

    1. Thank you Verity for your comment. I’m sorry if I missed the key holders list, some times I can’t see for looking. You do have a lovely church and it has a wonderful exterior 🙂 Next time when we are in the area I will message you. I have made a note of you sister church, as they might have a few more angels, if they over look the vale.
      Kindest regards,

  5. What is intriguing about the Belvoir Angels in Gonerby and the other churches in the Vale of Belvoir is that why and how they changed over to using Slate so early (late 17th Century?) when there is so much exceedingly good limestone available in quarries like Clipsham just a few miles to the south, or Ancaster to the east.

    Slate is not available locally at all from quarries, and I believe that you would have to go far (125 miles or more) to Wales to get slate. The route is against the grain of the country, and the slate in pre-canal age or railway times must have been many times more expensive than limestone on the basis of transport costs.

    One intriguing possibility exists. This area of the East Midlands is relatively close to the river transport routes via the Rivers Trent, Witham & Welland. Did the slate come up these rivers from Boston or Gainsborough?

    Did this slate perhaps come from Norway, where today much of the best slate for gravestones comes from super quarries at Larvik?

    There was considerable trade from Boston & Kings Lynn to Norway and the Baltic at this period, in things like tar and “Deals”, sawn softwood that was being used to replace very scarce local timber at this time.

    It would be fascinating to get a geologist to look under a microscope at these slates to determine their origin.

    There are very similar slate gravestones in many of the Indian and Southeast Asian ports associated with the East India Companies, the EIC, & the VOC from the Netherlands, which were taken out from Europe at this period.

  6. Hello again
    I have just commented at length on your post that included the Lismore angel-head gravestone and explained why only a relatively small number of faced headstones are considered to be Belvoir Angels but would like to add here a comment to Nick Balmer to say the true Belvoir Angel stones are ALWAYS on Swithland slate from the quarries (now closed) in Leicestershire. Why not limestone? Slate is much longer lasting.
    But ‘Blosslyn’ I must thank you for including the photo of the Belvoir Angel headstone at Great Gonerby as I didn’t have it in my collection – a church visit is now a must!
    I hope I don’t come over too pedantic about these slates but they have been a passion of mine for many years.

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