Wednesday, 14 October 2015

A Church Window...

...and why it made me sad.

A few weeks ago I blogged about Belgrave Hall not far from the centre of Leicester and yet an area with a feel of the countryside about it. Next to Belgrave Hall is a church, St Peter's Church. It is now decommissioned, unused, locked up for most of the year and that made me sad.

I can see why it has been decommissioned. There was once a bustling community living in the area and I understand that a church without a congregation is not really a church. I stood looking at the priest's vestments, all laid out on display, brightly embroidered each with different coloured threads, labelled for the particular festivals for which each would be worn. They should have been washed, pressed and awaiting their turn at a service. They made me sad.

The Chancel in St Peter's Church, Belgrave
The building has been up for sale. It didn't sell. I walked around it after my visit to Belgrave Hall and tried to imagine flats where pews have stood for centuries. Who would live with the grand stained glass window that was once part of the chancel?

The chancel window on the left is not the window that gave this post its title. 

I was far more interested in looking at a small side window. It's known as a leper's window or squint window. The sign in the church indicates that this window was installed in the Middle Ages so that priests could give Communion to the lepers as they travelled to Burton Lazars Leper Colony. Not for them the shelter and relative comfort of the pews or the beauty of the adornments. They had to stand in the churchyard, amongst reminders of their mortality. Who would incorporate this window into their lovely new flat? That thought really made me sad.

Burton Lazars is a village not far from Leicester. Inevitably there is no leper colony remaining, just the earthworks of the hospital which were uncovered in 2001 by the University of Leicester Archaeological Society. The hospital buildings were destroyed some hundred years after the Reformation but it had served the needs of lepers from the middle of the 12th century. It was founded by Roger de Mowbray and was said to be the largest leper colony in Europe. I knew nothing about it until I visited St Peter's Church and saw the window with its inscription. I apologise if the photograph is a little dark. It is in a tucked-away corner. I wonder what life might have been like for those lepers. I am determined to find out more about the lepers from Burton Lazars.

The Leper Window:

Inscription beside the window: Through this window the priest in the Middle Ages would give Communion and hear the confessions of lepers journeying to the leper colony at Burton Lazars, which was founded in 1135 by Roger de Mowbray. The stained glass is circa 19th Century

Research Footnote: I have started researching this at the local Records Office and am now wondering if this really was a window for lepers. 
1.  The Church is unlikely to have been en route to the leper colony. 
2.  Lepers would not have been welcomed where there was a large congregation. 
3.  Confessions cannot appropriately be heard through an open window in a public place. 
I am continuing to research this subject so, as they say, watch this space.


  1. There must be a story here, Ros - the research sounds fascinating, even if the church itself leaves you gloomy.

  2. I have no doubt you shall get us the full story. Meanwhile, the closed church does sound quite melancholy. But hopefully whoever does buy the stained glass windows will greatly appreciate their beauty and history. Let's pretend that's true. You poke into the neatest corners - thanks for sharing your adventures in your city.

    1. I would like to think that people buying these old buildings do so because they appreciate their beauty.

  3. Hi Ros - what a fascinating set of facts ... which are likely to be amended as you do your research. The big window looks just wonderful ... while I love the little window - it's so well executed: the ship sailing the seas; Looking forward to reading more about what you find out - sounds fascinating ... cheers Hilary

    1. It certainly has got me gripped. I'm reading up about leprosy at the moment!

  4. I've thought of going to Burton Lazars to see what I can find out about it. I realised what the name meant the first time I passed through the village. I look forward to hearing more.

  5. It would be sad to keep a beautiful church like this closed up. Hopefully they find a decent use for it.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

  6. Wow that is interesting Ros. Have you read the book,The Island by Victoria Hislop ? It's a fiction book but based on fact as she does lots of research for her books. It's about a leper colony called Spingalonga off the coast of Crete. When people were sent there they had to go to the chapel and actually attend their own funeral where they were declared dead. No family member was allowed contact with them again even although they were only a boat ride away. In fact the second world war hardly touched the island as the Germans were afraid of them. There is another book which is said to be fact called The Eagle of Spingalonga, it's more grittier and tells how the firat people who went to the island lived like animals, raping the women and stealing anything new people came to the island with. Therte was no order,no one cared,then one man changed it and brough law and order and demanded that the mainland send them food and build houses. Sorry to go on but I wonder if that was the same in England, did they attend their own funerals here?

    1. I did read Victoria Hislop's book. It was very moving. I haven't read the grittier one but can imagine the reality being more akin to that. I've not found out too much about leper colony practices here yet. There's not a lot of material but I'm still searching. I'll let you know if I find out.

    2. I thought you may have read it. Very interesting project Ros.