Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Based on the design of the original
church in Jerusalem, Simon de St.Liz had this one built
in Northampton. Roughly half the size of the Jerusalem
church it was erected in the year 1100 after his safe
return from his first crusade, it still stands and is now
over 900 years old. It is Northampton's oldest building.
One of only four remaining round churches of the Knights
Templar, it is the best preserved and one of the largest.
This church has survived many wars and battles and was
one of the few buildings to survive the Great Fire of
1675. Located in Sheep Street, it is still in use today.
Because of its round shape,
there was an enduring tradition among the locals that it
was the old synagogue, a view even supported by some of
its clergy until the 19th Century.
During recent repairs to flooring two ancient burials of priests, their heads buried virtually into the wall were discovered. It turned out that these were set directly under the drain hole of a piscina, so as to benefit from post-mortem libations of communion wine and holy water.
It is in this grave yard that the Jewish community is said to have committed an outrage that brought about their persecution, an attempted crucifixion against a young Christian boy on Good Friday 1277. 50 jews were hanged for this alleged crime.
A broken off cross-head, said to have been the remnants of a memorial to the ritual murder attempt, can be found inside the church, scarred by musket fire, it sits on a high window sill in the north east end of the building. However, it is almost certainly a cross blown off the roof in 1661.
By April 2nd 1835, the church had an illuminated clock face. A piece of machinery turned the gas on and off in proportion to the light required at different seasons.
At The Holy Sepulchre, three original Norman windows survive: one to the left of the south porch at low level and two on the north at high level. The fact that windows are positioned at two different levels indicates there would have been a gallery. Evidence of a corbel running round the perimeter supports the theory.
Reached by steps from the Round is the original chancel, terminating in an apse, and this remains as the nave and chancel of the present church. A two-bay north aisle was added to it around 1200. A second north aisle was added later, and in the 14th century. a south aisle was added. As it stands, the church has four parallel naves, one terminating with a vestry, another with the Chapel of St Thomas. The chancel with an apse is the original build, and the Chapel of St George heads the last nave. The original west doorway to the Round was demolished and a tower with a spire added in the 14th century. By the 17th century only the Round was in regular use, and the rest of the church fell into disrepair.
The 6th bell in the tower bears the inscription:
I to the church the living call
And to the grave do summon all.
July 17th, 1807 saw the addition of the weather vane. In 1851 the tower was struck by lightning, and in that year the prolific architect, George Gilbert Scott, was engaged to carry out a thorough restoration of the entire church. He rebuilt what had been lost, including the outer north aisle and the chancel with its flanking chapels. The church was reopened in 1864. The vestry at the end of the N outer aisle was added in 1887. St. Georges Chapel (Regimental Chapel), dedicated The Warriors Chapel 21st May 1921, contains the history and Battle Colours of the former Northamptonshire Regiment.
High on the wall of the Round, to the right of the tower is a curious tympanum.
It is a relief carving in stone of what appears to be a man fighting a dragon with
another human figure to his right clutching what appears to be the severed tail of the beast.