John E. Vigar MA, FSA Scot., FRSA

Churchcrawling and other summer pastimes

Welcome to my July Blog.


I`ve been picking up on church visiting recently.  Things are becoming slightly easier although it`s not been plain sailing, with individual churches having made their own decision on whether to open or not. In Norfolk about 70% of the churches that were open pre-Covid are now open. Many never closed at all. Depressingly, it`s the churches in tourist locations that are most likely to be closed. It really doesn`t make sense. Covid is an airborne infection and the risk of picking it up from surfaces has been overblown. Whilst you can go into countless shops to make purchases I`ve heard that you can`t even buy a guidebook in Chichester Cathedral!


I recently visited 13 churches in Hampshire in order to take photographs for my forthcoming book on Hampshire Churches. Only one was locked.The others all had sanitiser by the door and were fully accessible.

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New Book: Norfolk Churches


I am delighted to announce the publication of my new book Norfolk Churches. It has kept me busy through lockdown and details 50 churches that I think are of particular note - not just those that you would expect to find. In fact I deliberately left out many well-known churches to give some little-known gems an airing! The book has 100 colour photographs.

It is available in all good local bookshops and direct from the publisher here: Churches of Norfolk - Amberley Publishing (

You may be interested to know that I have also written the Kent and Hampshire volumes for the same series, both of which will be published next year.


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Medieval stained glass in Norfolk

It's amazing how much medieval glass survives in Norfolk.

This 5 minute video introduces you to some musical angels.


Medieval stained glass angels from Norfolk

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Little Known Leicestershire Churches Tour



My Autumn Church Tour visiting approximately 20 churches, many of which are difficult of access, is now booking.

The tour runs from Monday October 11th at 2pm when the coach collects at Leicester Station until Thursday 14th at 2pm.

We will be based at the confortable Best Western Plus Ullesthorpe Court Hotel on a dinner bed and breakfast basis.

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Spring has arrived


Welcome to the March edition of my occasional Blog. 


Leicestershire Church Coach Tour. 


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Plans for 2021


It seems so long ago that I was able to lead a church tour - pictured is our tour to Lincolnshire in Autumn 2019, but I hope that I may be able to start again this year. Its too early to know whether the April Tour of Somerset Churches will go ahead as planned - a lot will depened on the roll out of the vaccine, but also on the attitude of individual churches. In my opinion some have been over-cautious with regard to access to the buildings, but I can appreciate them wanting to be 'better safe than sorry'. I`ll keep those booked on the tour up to date as soon as I have anything to report.


During lockdown last year I wrote two new books. Norfolk Churches will be published this Spring and Kent Churches will appear in the autumn. I am delighted to say that I am currently writing Hampshire Churches for publication next year. The Norfolk book is already available for pre-order here.

Norfolk Churches pre order

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Happy Christmas


Dear Friends

This comes with my best wishes for the holiday season. Lets hope that 2021 brings happier news for us all.

Covid permitting I anticipate my 3-day tours to Somerset (April) and Leicestershire (October) will run as previously advertised. If you would like details please let me know. If you know of any organisations that might like to book me to lead a day church tour please let me know.

I have a series of ZOOM lectures for you to enjoy from the comfort of your homes between January and March. You dont need any special equipment or downloads. Details at Just put my name into the search box to see the different titles. Lectures cost £5 per household.

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Church Christmases Past

This is a blog I wrote for the Friends of Friendless Churches which I hope you find interesting.


Our vision of Christmases Past is so dominated by Dickens, Prince Albert and Thomas Hardy that we might be forgiven for paying little attention to celebrations in older times. Yet many of our parish churches have been witness to over a thousand Christmas celebrations, and it is a fascinating study to identify the way in which things were done in the earlier periods.

Christmas Day - meaning December 25th - is first mentioned in the fourth century and probably incorporated existing Roman festivals[1]. It was thought that March 25th was when the world was created, and Christ conceived, so December was determined as the month of His birth. It also marked the Equinox and the move from darkness to light. Later disagreements over the date meant that Christmas was little celebrated and only really became a widely-accepted significant date after Charlemagne was crowned on that day in AD800. In England, the date was subsequently chosen for the coronations of both King Edmund of East Anglia (AD855) and King William the Conqueror (1066) setting it firmly in both secular and religious calendars[2].

To most of the medieval population Christmas was a time for secular festivities, but with ever increasing religious influence. As Eamon Duffy explains, the secular carols were `pervasively indebted to liturgical hymnody`.[3] Secular festivals included parades and coronations of `Kings for a Day` with accompanying Mummers and Wassailers. The tradition of the Hooden Horse in Kent and Mari Lwyd in Wales took religious symbolism (the horse Mary rode into Bethlehem) into the secular world.

Medieval churches had permanent reminders of Christmas year-round. At Fincham (Norfolk) the font has a wonderfully crude Nativity scene on its twelfth century font whilst at Ashampstead (Berkshire) fine thirteenth century wall paintings survive. Interestingly, Nativity scenes were not common in the early medieval period, but by the fifteenth century every church may have had one. One of the finest, of alabaster and made at Nottingham in the fourteenth century is now in the V&A and must originally have formed part of an altarpiece. It is widely believed that St Francis of Assisi introduced the first nativity figures into his church at Greccio in 1223[4].

Churches themselves have many little-known traditions associated with Christmas. At Dewsbury (Yorkshire) the tolling bell, used to announce funerals, was rung on Christmas Eve to symbolise the death of the Devil, to precede the birth of Christ.[5] Churches were decorated with evergreens – Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe. The latter was much revered as it represented a plant which depended on another for survival. In 1486 the churchwardens as St Mary at Hill (City of London) paid 4d for “Holme and Ivy at Christmas Eve”[6] .

Following the Reformation, Christmas was still celebrated widely in churches and in 1559 Bishop Grindal, the then Bishop of London published a book of carols that were predominantly religious rather than secular[7]. The early seventeenth century, however, saw changes in public attitude towards Christmas which was seen as too much fun, and in 1647 the Long Parliament said that Christmas would no longer be recognised. This led to general unrest, especially when in Canterbury a woman was thrown in prison for making a Christmas Pudding, and shopkeepers imprisoned for not opening their shops as usual on Christmas Day. Thankfully, the celebration of Christmas was restored, with the monarchy, in 1660. That year, Samuel Pepys attended his church of St Olave (City of London) and recorded that his pew was `covered in rosemary`[8]

In the diaries of the James Woodforde (1758-1802), the parson of Weston Longville in Norfolk, we discover that he only introduced a service on Christmas Day in the late 1790s, and that it was not at all well-supported.[9] The Revd Francis Kilvert (1840-1879) living on the Wales/Herefordshire border did not have a service on Christmas Day at all. He was a low-church clergyman who took services on Sunday alone, and this was not uncommon in rural communities. Conversely, the High Church Anglicans most certainly celebrated Communion on Christmas Day as we see from the Returns from the Census of Religious Worship of 1851, where several clergy mentioned holding services. However, nineteenth century Christmas services relied on a few old carols – most were still secular and usually sung at home or as part of concerts. In 1875 a book of appropriate carols was published by R R Chope and these became popular almost overnight.[10] Like the Harvest Festival which we all think has been around forever, the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is a nineteenth century invention, first introduced by Bishop E W Benson at Truro Cathedral 140 years ago this year. It was apparently conceived to get the men out of the pubs, and after Benson became Archbishop of Canterbury its popularity was assured.

No wonder that today we prefer to see Christmas through Victorian eyes.


[1] Friar, Stephen, A Companion to the English Parish Church, Sutton Publishing 1996 p108

[2] Williamson, David, Kings and Queens of Great Britain, 1991

[3] Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars, Yale, 1992, p15

[4] Johnson, G O, Why do Catholics do that? Random House, 1994

[5] Thistleton Dyer, T F, Church-Lore Gleanings, Innes and Co, 1892, 104

[6] Andrews, William, The Church Treasury, William Andrews, 1898, p 230

[7] Strype, John, The Life of Edmund Grindal, Clarendon Press, 1821

[8] Smith, G G (ed) The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Macmillan, 1935, p60

[9] Beresford, John (ed), The Diary of a Country Parson, OUP, 1978

[10] Chope, R R, Carols for Use in Church During Christmas and Epiphany , Metzler and Co 1875

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Kent Churches Online Course


A reminder that there are still places available on my forthcoming course on ZOOM entitled `Historic Churches of Kent`.


The course takes place on the next three Monday evenings between 7.30pm and 8.30pm and covers the history, architecture and furnishings of Kent Churches. It is profusely illustrated and includes many previously unseen photographs. Topics include towers; fonts, screens, seating, memorials; stained glass.


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Forthcoming Zoom lecture


I I am giving a Zoom lecture on Tuesday. Please join me if you can.

John Vigar presents a series of lectures on zoom

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Online Lectures


I am pleased to announce that I will be giving these online lectures in October


Tuesday 6th October  Churches of the Romney Marshes

Tuesday 20th October   For Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals

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English cathedrals - residential course


I am delighted to announce that I will be teaching a short course this autumn at KNUSTON HALL, Northamptonshire on an "Introduction to English Cathedrals". For those of you who do not know Knuston Hall, it is a residential adult college, and I have taught there for several years. It's just three miles from Wellingborough Station where taxis are available. The food is superb and the staff friendly and welcoming. The college fulfills all Covid-19 safety regulations and is deliberately running on small class numbers.


The course starts with lunch on Tuesday October 27th and ends after lunch on Thursday October 29th. We`ll look at the way in which all 42 English cathedrals were established and run and as the course is profusely illustrated it's an ideal armchair study, suitable for absolute beginners.


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Autumn online lectures

I am pleased to annouce my programme of ZOOM lectures for the rest of the year. They cost £5 each. Please do tell your friends!


Wednesday August 19th at 7.30pm   Little Known treasures in Norfolk churches

Monday September 14th at 8.00pm  Cathedrals of England

Tuesday September 15th at 7.30pm for three Tuesday evenings Historic Churches of Norfolk - 3 sessions

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New online lectures


For the forseeable future all my work will be online. This means that I will be opening my work up to a whole new audience who will be able to attend my lectures from the comfort of their own homes - but existing clients are more than welcome, of course!

I currently have two one-hour lectures available.

Murder Sex and Mayhem in English Churches on Monday10th August at 7.30pm  

Exploring Kent Churches on Tuesday 11th August at 7.30pm  

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Online lectures

For the next 4 Monday evenings at 8pm I am giving online lectures. The titles are as follows:


Monday 6th July

Bedrooms, Banquets and Balls - an off-beat look at the English Country House

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Online lecture

I'm presenting my popular lecture "Murder Sex and Mayhem in English Churches" via Zoom on the evening of June 29th.

All you need is a computer or tablet and internet access.


Full booking details here

Murder Sex and Mayhem - BOOKING

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Church Day Trips

Sadly, I have decided to give up arranging my public church day tours. I have been running these for over 30 years. They have been thoroughly enjoyable and I have met many interesting people along the way.


These tours take a huge amount of organisation and since Data Protection came into force it has been almost impossible to obtain contact details for individual churches. In an average year I have to contact in excess of 50 churches (just for day tours) and when you don't receive a response from half of them and spend hours trying to make contact it just takes the fun out of it.


For the past two years I have run the tours at a loss and COVID-19 has made the situation even worse.

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Saxon Church Architecture

An introduction to Saxon architecture


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Medieval Dedicatory inscriptions

A short vBlog


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A few words about baptisms

A new vblog about baptisms


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Latest Blogs from John

  Welcome to my roundup of jottings from the past couple of months. It`s been a busy autumn season with lots going on including the group tour of Somerset Churches which visited 18 churches near Clevedon. We finished in a monsoon-like downpour b...
JOHN VIGAR`S CHURCHES OF THE LINCOLNSHIRE WOLDS AND MARSH MONDAY 8th to THURSDAY 11th April 2024 Join me for a tour exploring a wide variety of churches. Staying at the North Shore Hotel on the edge of the Golf Links at Skegness on a DBB basis. The t...
Now that autumn is upon us it`s time to offer you three new Zoom lectures. Pre-Conquest Churches A Thousand Years of Cats in Churches Exploring Monmouthshire Churches   I do hope you`ll sign up and enjoy these new titles. Only 25 tickets are ava...
      I was absolutely delighted when Christopher Howse wrote about me in his column in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday. He featured my new book, Churches of Cambridgeshire which came out last week, and in a subsequent Tweet said it ...

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