To enter St. Luke’s Church in Duston and to look around is to enter a fascinating world where past and present fuse together in a blend spanning eight hundred years and more; where one can feel the living presence of past generations of village inhabitants in this, the centre of the village.
St. Luke's is an early monastic church, built about 1113 and is a Grade 1 listed building. It was built as a place of worship for Augustinian monks from the nearby St. James Abbey. During the late 13th and early 14th centuries, St. Luke's was extended to its existing size with the addition of the south porch, aisles and chancel. It has a mixture of architecture owing to its gradual construction across the centuries.
Approach St. Luke’s from Main Road in Duston along Church Way, pass through the Lychgate, (built in 1907 to replace the then derelict churchyard gates) and enter a tranquil world of peace.
Churchyard & church exterior
In 2001 the churchyard won the Best Kept Churchyard competition organised by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, coming first out of some 800 entries from all over the United Kingdom. Click here for churchyard map.
Pass along the path towards the church, past the ancient yews. You will see the west end of the church with its five windows, and there, clearly outlined, is the west end of a very old building, contrasting in its rough sandstone construction with the (slightly) more modern building surrounding it. This original building was built sometime before 1113, the date of the death of William Peveril who gave the church to the Abbey of St. James. It was constructed on or near the site of a wooden church built in Saxon times. The first stone church must have been a tiny affair - no doubt to suit a tiny rural community.
Sometime during the next hundred and fifty years or so, the nave of the church as it now is, was added onto the original structure, as was the south porch. Duston must have been prospering at this time.
See also Survey of Memorials at St Luke's Church.
Walk round to the north. At the end of the west wall is a hole about 5'6" above the ground. Now it penetrates only about eighteen inches, but once it went straight through. The hole may have been a leper's squint, enabling lepers and others forbidden from entering the church to partake at a distance in the services, or the remnant of an anchorite cell. See also Anchorite Cell at St Luke's.
Continue round to the north side. There is the north door with a dripstone surrounded by three carved heads; the upper one, of a monk, betrays the building’s monastic beginnings.
Eastern & southern aspects
A walk to the east brings you forward another hundred years, to the time when the Chancel was added to the nave, its decorated style (1275-1375) following in natural sequence the early English style of the earlier part of the building. This extension coincided with a flood of church building throughout the country in the years following the catastrophic Black Death. At the same time the tower was added; while it is unusual in a small church to have a central tower, it must have suited the mediaeval masons to build at the same end of the church as the chancel extension was being constructed. While walking round the east and south sides of the chancel, look carefully at the stonework. There are numerous holes with lines radiating all round; these are mass dials, mediaeval sundials with the times of services programmed on them.
Porch & south door
The circuit of the church ends at the south porch, which was probably built at the same time as the nave and the aisles.
Churchyard perimeter walk
The perimeter walk provides a good view of the churchyard itself, beautifully maintained by the St Luke's Churchyard Team. During the walk you will encounter the St Luke's Churchyard Shrine, dedicated to the late Father Nigel Dent.
On entering the porch, you are faced with an immediate contrast in style. Ahead, surrounded by Early English architecture, is the south doorway, headed by a Norman arch.
Within the church, the mixture of styles remains evident. The slender octagonal pillars supporting the early English nave provide an immediate contrast to the one massive semi-circular pillar remaining from William Peveril’s church, which is set into the west wall. Four massive rectangular pillars support the central tower.
To the left of the south doorway is the font, carved from a block of Norman limestone, surmounted by a cover presented by the Sunday School in 1902, as a replacement for one which had disappeared at an unknown time in the past. (The custom of covering and locking fonts grew up to prevent the theft of holy water for sacrilegious rites.)
Nave altar & tower
To the west of the tower is the present nave altar, placed there in the restoration of 1966, thereby returning to the site of the stone altar in the original building.
Behind the north-west pillar of the tower is an ancient chest, the former container for the church’s valuables; its numerous keyholes, some now blocked up, ensured numerous keys and numerous key holders, thereby increasing security.
Cemented into the floor of the vestry is the tomb cover of Abbot Nicholas de Flore, the twelfth abbot of the Abbey of St James, who died in 1334. To find out more, see Tomb Cover of Nicholas de Flore.
Carry on into the chancel. Above is a unique series of four corbels decorated with musicians playing drums, bagpipes, a fiddle and a harp. The fiddler is more modem than the others, and may be a copy of one in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton, but all are of uncertain age. Do they portray church musicians of long ago? But why are they there? Perhaps they are simply the result of a flight of mediaeval fancy, a grand statement of the feelings that produced the carved heads (all but one human) which so liberally decorate the pillars in the nave and the tower.
For more about the corbels, see Musical History of St Luke's Church.
East window & chancel altar
The east window depicts the Ascension of Our Lord (as taken from St. Luke’s Gospel) and is a Victorian addition, dating from 1887; the brass lectem was given two years previously. To the right of the chancel altar is the piscina, a basin into which is poured water used for washing sacred vessels.
Space does not permit a detailed description of everything in the church, but walk around and read the inscriptions in many places, testaments of the loving care devoted to keeping this place alive. And enjoy, on the north-west tower pillar, the most recent addition (1980) to the fabric of the building, the beautiful “Dancing Madonna” by Maureen Coatmen, a moving statement of love and happiness.
St Luke’s is open Saturdays between 10am and 11am. To view the church at other times, please apply to the Vicar, Rev Alan Baines.
The Friends of St Luke’s
This society has been formed to raise funds and produce a regular income for the restoration and maintenance of the church. Any building of such a great age inevitably requires a considerable expenditure; the problem endemic to such a building is that of fund raising. Such a problem can be solved through the goodwill of people who would be sad to see the church – the scene of baptisms, weddings and funerals – disappear. People who, although they may not be frequent attenders at church, appreciate the presence in their midst of a piece of history, and a source of comfort in times of trial.
Revd Alan Baines: 01604 752591