Just when Christianity first came to Rayne will probably never be known but, to quote an earlier Guide, there was without doubt a previous church built in the beginning of the seventh century. This was in the days of the Saxons, 250 years or more before the time of Alfred the Great. In 1199, the year King John succeeded Richard I, this building was replaced by a Norman Nave and Chancel, founded by Robert de Welles and Harry de Reynes (or Raynes). The tower was added in 1510 in the days of Henry VIII.
After being in use for more than 600 years the Norman Nave and Chancel became unsafe and in 1840, shortly after the accession of Queen Victoria, they were replaced by those in use today. The Tudor Tower was, however, left intact.
The present Church consists of a Tower, Nave, Chancel and Sanctuary with Clergy and Choir Vestries. The Chancel was restored and the Choir Vestry enlarged to accommodate the organ in 1867. The present Sanctuary and Clergy Vestry were added in 1914. The existing pews and most of the windows date from 1866. Electric light replaced oil lamps in 1935 and the Church was restored and redecorated and a new lighting system installed in 1975/6.
During 2002 the South Porch was converted into a toilet this brought piped water and drainage to the Church. A much needed new heating system was installed in 2005.
The Church is fortunate in possessing Registers dating back to 1558, the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The majority are in the custody of the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford but a photographic copy of the first entries can be seen framed on the north wall of the Nave opposite the south door. Pictures of the old Norman Church hang on the north wall and in the west entrance beneath the Tower.
Above the south door hangs an oil painting (artist unknown), purchased in 1756 and restored in 1976, of the Arms of the Earls of Essex. who, with their predecessors the Capel family, were Patrons of the Church for some 450 years. At the rear of the nave, are two Fonts. One, of plain stone, is believed to date from the 17th century. The other, larger and currently in use, is a heavily restored 14th century font of carved stone. Depicted on it are the four symbols of Baptism, the Cross, the Hand of God, the Dove and “IHS”, the monogram of Jesus; also the Lion, Man, Eagle and Ox from the Book of Revelation. Hanging on the west wall are two carved wooded angel figures of the late 17th or early 18th century which were presented to the church in 1976 and are believed to be relics of the old Norman Church.
The pictorial glass windows on either side of the Nave at the rear of the Church formed part of the earlier east window and were moved to their present positions when the new Sanctuary was built in 1914. The Communion Table in the north east corner is a relic of a Lady Chapel installed in 1940 and removed in the early 1980’s.
The Pulpit is of carved oak and dates from 1867. The pulpit rail was made by a local wood carver in 1910 as a memorial to King Edward VII. The same craftsman carved the oak Choir screen in 1901 as a memorial to Queen Victoria and it bears the following inscription:
This screen is erected as a thank offering to Almighty God
in memory of Queen Victoria (born 1819 died 1901)
The wood from which it is made was the gift of the Parishioners,
the workmanship and carving were the special gift of
J. L. W. Rudken
Right Hon. George 7th Earl of Essex, Patron
Charles Hutchinson M. A., Rector
John Barnard and Thomas Hawkes, Churchwardens
Samuel Hance, Parish Clerk
The Rectors Stall is of 16th century carved oak (probably Flemish). The desk in front of it is modern as are the Choir Stalls (1914) which bear the following inscription:-
To the Glory of God and in Memory of Robert de Welles and Harry de Raynes who founded and endowed this church in 1199.
These StaIls are given by Charles Hutchinson M.A.Renie Mc G. Hutchinson 1914
There is a carved oak panel (15th century Flemish) above the entrance to the Clergy Vestry depicting the Death of the Virgin Mary. The Organ (by Bevington of London) was once part of a larger instrument believed to have been removed from Great Dumnow Church in 1867. It has a single manual with a full pedal keyboard, the latter installed in 1950. The Organ was renovated and cleaned in 1979 following damage sustained in a heavy snowstorm in January of that year. Opposite the Organ and above the Choir Stalls are two coloured glass windows (1858) of St. Peter and St. Paul.
In front of the Communion rail are two ancient stone slabs (c.1480) with indents, one of a man in armour and a woman with a butterfly head-dress but there is no record of whose effigies they are. The line of the 1840 Communion rail can also be seen.
The Sanctuary contains a Sedilia and an Aumbry both of 15th century carved oak. The Reredos is modern (1914) but displays fifteen carved oak panels dating back to about 1640. The four to the left of the Communion Table show the Annunciation, the visitation, the Nativity and the presentation of Christ in the Temple. Four over the Communion Table depict the Finding of Christ in the Temple, The Garden of Gethsemane, the Scourging and Christ crowned with thorns. Above these are three panels; one showing the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and two until 1987 misidentified, but now known to show the legends of the Assumption, and the Crowning of the Virgin Mary. The remaining four panels to the right show Christ bearing the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension.
The Communion rail (1914) contains seven (old) carved oak panels. The central one depicts the Lord’s Supper and the others, from left to right:
(1) The Agony of Christ in the Garden
(2) Judas kissing Christ with Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus
(3) The Examination of Christ before Annas
(4) Christ before Caiaphas
(5) Christ before Herod
(6) The Condemnation of Christ, with Pilate washing his hands.
The East window and windows on the north and south contain stained glass figures of the four Gospel Saints. Other Saints depicted are Etheidreda, Winifred, Frydeswide, Alban, Edmund (King and Martyr), Edward (King and Confessor) and Charles I (King and Martyr) These windows were made in 1914 by the Norwich Glass Company.
The famous Capel Brass (1572) is fixed to the north wall; opposite is a Sacring Bell bearing in Flemish the inscription I am cast in the year of our Lord 1528 which was brought from Flanders by Sir Giles Capel as a gift to Rayne Church. It disappeared during the reconstruction work in 1840 but was returned and re-dedicated in 1936. This is the only Sacring Bell and the only foreign bell to be found in Essex and it is the oldest but one of all dated bells in the country.
The original Capel Helm was removed by the builder of the present church, William Parmenter of Bocking. It was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of New York who sent a copy back to England. Unfortunately this was stolen in March 2005. A descendant of the Capel family – Mr Graham L. Capel surprised us recently with a gift: a replacement for the stolen replica Capel Helmet. A low doorway provides access to the Ringing Chamber, Belfry and roof of the Tower. The bells were re-hung with all new fittings in 1991.
Behind the metal clock dial on the west face of the Tower is an ancient wooden dial of unknown date .
The clock has a single hand only with four instead of the usual five divisions between the hours to denote quarters and halves. It has been driven by an electric mechanism since 1956 and only the pendulum and winding handle of the original clock now remain.
Carved in the stonework on either side of the west doorway are an anchor and a lion, insignia of Sir William Capel who built the Tower in 1510.