|St. Mary's Staindrop, west end|
Many aristocratic families buried their dead in abbeys, priories, and large, impressive churches--and those edifices were destroyed at the Dissolution by Henry VIII, or in the English Civil Wars in the mid-17th century. But Staindrop St. Mary's has survived intact, perhaps because it was small and out of the way. "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first."
In fact, St. Mary’s at Staindrop was a very important abbey church from Saxon times. My ancestors through Robert Fitzmaldred, a Saxon lord who married Isabel de Neville, go back to Saxon and Scottish royalty. Isabel’s de Neville’s ancestors go back to Neuville-sur-Touques, Normandy, about 1000 AD. The church predates both Robert and Isabel by 300 years.
Two couples of Nevilles are entombed at Durham Cathedral: Lady Maud de Percy (1335-1378) and husband Lord John Neville (1328-1388); and Lord Ralph Neville (1291-1367) and his wife Lady Alice d’Audley (d. 1374). They were patrons of Durham Cathedral and donated the magnificent carved-stone Neville Screen in the chancel of the cathedral. Several generations of Nevilles were buried at Coverham Abbey near Middleham Castle, which the Nevilles inherited.
Those with medieval effigies in the Staindrop church:
…Margery de Thweng Neville, 1st wife of Baron Ralph Neville (1291-1367 who is buried at Durham cathedral with 2nd wife Alice d’Audley). Margery died childless.
…Isabel de Neville, 1176-1254. Her husband Robert Fitzmaldred’s burial place is unknown.
…Euphemia de Clavering Neville, 1267-1339. Her husband Randolph Neville was buried at Coverham Abbey in Yorkshire. For a lovely description with excellent photos of Euphemia's effigy, visit http://anhrefn.blogspot.com/2011/06/euphemia-de-clavering.html
…Ralph Neville, 1st Earl Westmorland, 1364-1425. (Ralph’s effigy and tomb is here, plus both wives’ effigies: Margaret Stafford was buried at Brancepeth Castle and Joan Beaufort was buried at Lincoln Cathedral). This Ralph, in 1408, was granted the license to found a college at the church, with an endowment the equivalent of today’s £300,000.
…Child’s effigy, unknown name. Perhaps this effigy represents one child, or many infants or children who succumbed to stillbirth, illness, or injury, who are buried in the church.
The Staindrop roof has been raised, and you can see a steep pitch in the stonework above the chancel, below the nearly-flat beamed ceiling. The red-ochre and black floor tiles are medieval, and similar colors and style may be seen at many medieval churches across England, including Lincoln, Gloucester, Winchester, Tutbury, and Merevale. The original Saxon church was a cruciform plan, but was enlarged in the 1200s and 1300s by the Nevilles’ sponsorship, and is now nearly a square because the aisles were enlarged by creating space to the west of each transept. The aisles and west end of the nave hold the memorials to the Lords of Raby over the centuries.
The font is Egglesone marble from late 15th century, and carries the arms of Edward Neville, 1st Lord Bergavenny (d. 1476), son of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl Westmorland.
The ceiling of the choir is decorated with the Neville arms, and off to the left of the choir is a small viewing window high up, which is a hermit’s view of the altar and Eucharistic ceremonies, according to the signage there. The description of “anchorite” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchorite seems to fit the Staindrop cell better than that of “hermit,” and I found a reference to an anchoritic cell at Staindrop: “… a chamber with an ancient fire-place over the vestry of this church. At the head of the stone newel staircase is a square-headed window of three lights, the mullions of which are cut askew from east to west in order to command the high altar.” http://www.historyfish.org/anchorites/clay_anchorites_seven.html
"The [Staindrop] Church, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, is a most interesting structure, and bears traces of great antiquity, many distinct evidences of a church of early Saxon foundation being still in existence. The church, in its present form, consists of nave, north and south aisles, both of which are wider than the nave itself, chancel, with spacious vestry, and priest's house or "domus inclusa" [anchorite cell] over it, a north transept, an engaged western tower, and south porch. Traces of an early Saxon church are to be seen in the spandrils of the three eastern arches of the nave on each side, and in the eastern wall of the nave, as high as the springing of the Early Pointed roof. The material used in these ancient fragments of walls is coarse rubble, thickly patched with original moss, decisive proof that a great part of it has not been quarried, but won from the surface." [From History, Topography and Directory of Durham, Whellan, London, 1894] Source: http://www.joinermarriageindex.com/pjoiner/genuki/DUR/Staindrop/index.html
I confess to rushing through the church tour, so as to get to my objective: photographing the effigies of my ancestors. So in addition to my observations, I owe some of Staindrop’s history (and the floor plan drawing) to a pamphlet I purchased at the back of the church, St. Mary’s Staindrop, An Illustrated History and Guide, by Clifton Sutcliffe, William K. Trotter, and Rev. David R. Jones.
Also, a hearty thanks to the pastoral staff of Staindrop for leaving the church unlocked during the day so visitors (on pilgrimage from California!) can enter for worship, for study, for reverie, or paying respects to their dusty ancestors.