St Wistan's History

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St Wistan's : History and Architecture

This tiny church never had the status of a parish church but evolved from a shrine chapel dedicated to a local saint who as an Anglo-Saxon Mercian prince, through a variety of different - both for worship and non-worship - purposes over time.
Wistan was murdered in 849 at nearby Wistow. His body was taken by his followers to be buried in the royal mausoleum at Repton in Derbyshire passing through the village of Wigston en route. Where the body was believed to have rested overnight a small shrine was set up to honour the prince who was later sanctified after reports that miracles and healings had taken place during visits to his burial crypt at Repton.
By 1086 the small commemorative shrine in Wigston had become integrated into a chapel served by its own separate cleric. In late medieval times the shrine was the centre of an annual pilgrimage held on the anniversary of St Wistan’s murder, the 1st of June, when the whole village took part in the celebrations and worship of a jewelled figure of the saint in the north aisle of the chapel.

The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century made illegal all worship of images of saints, shrines and relics making the little chapel redundant. It was used, from the late sixteenth century as the schoolroom of the village until 1839, and later became the meeting house of the Congregation of Independents (now the URC) towards the end of the seventeenth century.

The building seems to have been put to a multitude of uses despite being in a ruinous state with a perilously leaning steeple and crumbling masonry. It became a mortuary house, a fuel store, a barn and also managed to contain two alms-houses which were built into the east end of the nave.

In the middle of the nineteenth century restoration work was begun on the dilapidated building and it was opened again for divine worship in 1877. The Reformation of the sixteenth century had had such drastic consequences that even the original dedication of the church to St Wistan had disappeared without trace, and for 200 years it was erroneously known in Wigston as 'St Wolstan’s'.
In 1957 it was returned to its true dedication and given another extensive restoration, the results of which can be seen today, mainly in the interior.
Sadly, as of 2018, the church is suffering once again from structural issues - this time at the east end - and is currently under consultation for the possible closure for public worship. Meanwhile, one of Wigston's famous 'Two Steeples' continues to stand above the town and can be seen from miles around.