St Catherine’s Wyville is a small parish church in the Harlaxton Group of Churches, part of the Lincoln Diosese. It’s seen better days, not that it’s falling over or anything, just that it has previously been more central to people’s lives – undoubtedly a story that holds true in rural churches across the country. With a new parish priest, after a vacancy that lasted over a year, overseeing a steadily diminishing congregation, services have been reduced to the almost non-existent (the information on the Parish website about services on the second Sunday of the month is, unfortunately, no longer accurate). However we believe that, despite the current doldrums, the church is an important part of our community and, hopefully, we will encourage it to generate a new lease of life.
The current St Catherine was built in 1857 by George Gregory (who also oversaw Hungerton Hall and whose nephew built Harlaxton Manor, see our about page). However there had been an earlier St Catherine, situated quarter of a mile across the valley where the Sycamore farm buildings now are. We don’t know much about the old St Catherine, other than there was a significant graveyard (coffins and skeletal remains have been found), and that there are stories of an attached leper hospital run by the Order of Saint Lazarus.
Our assumption is that the old St Catherine must have been of a decent size; there are huge flagstones in odd places around the estate that have been repurposed from a fairly grand building and, if there was truly was a leper hospital (tied to the associated stories of a healing spring), there would likely be the supporting infrastructure around it, including a decent church.
I believe that the church would have been named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria (rather than Saint Catherine of Sienna). Catherine of Alexandria was born in 297AD, the daughter of the governor of Alexandrian Egypt. Having turned to christianity aged 14, in 305 AD (aged 18) she rebuked the new emperor Maxentius for his cruelty, was imprisoned and tortured. Nearly everyone who came into contact with her converted to Christianity, including the emperor’s wife. After failing to get her to renounce her faith, and her having spurned his proposal of marriage, the emperor condemned Catherine to death on a spiked breaking wheel. At her touch the breaking wheel shattered and so Maxentius finally had her beheaded.
Saint Catherine was one of the most important saints in the religious culture of the late Middle Ages, and arguably considered the most important of the virgin martyrs. Her power as an intercessor was renowned and firmly established in most versions of her hagiography, in which she specifically entreats Christ at the moment of her death to answer the prayers of those who remember her martyrdom and invoke her name.