St Catherine’s Church, Littleton

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February, 2019

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While in the Winchester area, we visited the little church of St Catherine’s in the village of Littleton which sits between the Roman road to Cirencester (B3420) and the Stockbridge road (B3049).

The parish has some important ancient tumuli sites and with a history dating from the Bronze Age.

St Catherine’s has been a place of worship for over a thousand years. It was originally on a Saxon or Norman foundation and was altered in the 14th century. By the 19th century it was in a sad state of repair before the gallery was removed and the North aisle and porch were added.

It was redecorated following a fire in 1974 and a new organ was installed.

The church is recorded in the Domesday Book as one of the nine churches in the Chilcomb grant of land Cynegils to the Minster of Winchester and was confirmed to the Prior and Convent of St Swithun by the Pope in 1205.

Records show it was originally dedicated in honour of St Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr. The legend surrounding St. Catherine is said that she defied the emperor Maxentius’ efforts to break down her faith. An unsuccessful attempt (thought to have been in 307 AD), was made to destroy her on a spiked wheel (the catherine wheel). A corpse discovered on Mount Sinai early in the 9th. century was regarded as hers after it had been carried there by angels following her death.

St Catherine’s Church passed into the King’s hands at the dissolution of the monasteries and was granted to the newly founded Dean and Chapter of Winchester in 1541.

There is an amazing 12th century, Norman font said to be one of the finest in England. It stands on a central drum with four corner columns and is carved out of black Purbeck marble. The sides are decorated with geometric patterns and there are foilage designs in the four corners on the top. It has original lead lining with hinge marks for the cover. The present font cover is deeply carved and painted and was made from the 15th century screen of Longparish church.

The Quatrefoil tracery now set into the chancel wall above the pulpit is blocked with brickwork and may have once lighted a rood screen staircase.

The bases of the Chancel arch show the roll mouldings of the original Norman piers.
There are two small brasses set in a slab in the floor of the chancel arch which commemorate John Smythe 1505 and Alicia his wife 1499.

The 17th century tombstone dated 1689 was discovered in the old stoke hole of the church and now stands beside the porch. It commemorates the wife of Richard Fiffield whose unusual name of Temperrences was possibly due to living in Puritan times.

Caroline Hutchings

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