Peakirk, St Pega’s
The Grade 1 listed church bears the unique dedication to St Pega, who gave her name to Peakirk [‘Pega’s church’]. Documentary sources tell us that she was of noble birth, the sister of Guthlac, who was the hermit of Crowland, and that she founded her own cell nearby. Like her brother, Pega was a miracle worker, restoring the sight of a blind man with salt and holy water that Guthlac had blessed. She reputedly died on a pilgrimage to Rome in 719.
The present church was built around 1014, but was remodelled by the Normans, when the elaborate Romanesque doorway was inserted in the south wall. The doorway was re-sited when the Early English south aisle was added in the 13th century. The chancel was reconstructed in the 15th century, and has an impressive east window. The stained glass was installed by C E Kempe & Co Ltd in 1915. Two of its lights portray St Pega standing shoulder-to-shoulder with The Virgin Mary.
During the fourteenth century, the church interior was covered with bright murals. They were limewashed over during the Reformation on the orders of Edward VI (1547-53), who outlawed religious imagery. In the 1950s, they were revealed by Edward Clive Rouse, who coated them with wax as a preservative.
A larger-than-life St Christopher stands opposite the south door, flanked by faint images of the painting’s sponsor and a mermaid. The saint is surrounded by scenes from Christ’s Passion. Above the north, or Devil’s, door is a rare depiction of the morality tale, A Warning to Gossips. It shows two whispering women in wimples, encouraged by a demon. On the north wall there is also a representation of the Quick and the Dead. Here, three richly attired kings of various ages encounter three skeletons, who inform them, ‘As you are, so were we; as we are, so shall ye be’.
Unfortunately, Rouse’s preservation methods caused these important paintings to deteriorate and they are in urgent need of conservation.
St Pega’s church took part in the Bats in Churches project because they were sheltering a large maternity colony of soprano pipistrelle bats that were flying through the interior of the church and causing mess and upset for the church community.
In 2018, much of the lead roofing was stolen putting the wall paintings and bats at risk. A temporary roof was installed, but it was necessary to re-roof the church during a short window at the end of 2019 due to the type of bat roost present and the need to gain permission from the Diocese.
This provided an opportunity for the project to incorporate bat mitigation measures in the re-roofing plans to stop the bats from flying through the church, whilst preserving a place for them to roost within the roof structure. The ecologist used a Bats in Churches class license from Natural England to survey the roost over the summer, which was happily still in residence and 300 strong despite the temporary roof, and to include a bat box in the architect’s plans.
The bats took to their new home and are present in greater numbers than before the lead theft. The roost is being monitored by Cambridgeshire Bat Group