Heckington Church: The Married Couple


I visited Heckington Church, Lincolnshire, this week. I had seen heavy black clouds looming as I walked to it. I wisely resolved to photograph the exterior before sheltering within. After I entered, a man arrived who told me off for leaving open the door. I explained that I left things the way I found them, but he was no happier. Once he discovered I showed a more-than-casual interest in the building, he warmed to me and shared some of his knowledge before completing some maintenance and disappearing.

The church is awash with carved figures, both gargoyles without and corbels within. Ones outside include leery men, monsters and frightful women. Inside are various figures, perhaps local dignitaries who helped build the church in the 1300s, even the masons themselves.

One particularly caught my eye. Three figures gaze out, two men and a woman. The woman pulls the far man’s beard while he attempts to close her mouth with his hand, while the man in the middle looks on. It has been proposed that the middle man is a priest, attempting to mediate between two vitriolic spouses. Even medieval couples, living at a time when divorce for ordinary folk was not allowed, would have squabbled and fought, bickered and rowed.

Marriage is a wonder. Before the Fall, it would have been far easier for two perfect people to live together. After the Fall, each one’s sinful nature, with its selfishness, spite, jealousy and pride, grates and conflicts with the other. Marriage cannot be easy, and we know that some don’t survive the vows’ claims.

In scripture, marriage is a picture of the union between Creator and created, between Christ and His people. Whereas my sinful nature must be jarring to Him, His sheer goodness and grace are a tonic to me. Our Heckington couple are actually more than wrangling; today they might appear on a charge of domestic violence, something our medieval forbears would have thought perfectly normal and desirable. Sadly, some married partners communicate with fists when suitably vitriolic words cannot be mustered. I cannot tell if they ever reconciled, or learned to live with each others’ ways.

I am my beloved’s,

And my beloved is mine.

He feeds his flock among the lilies.

Song 6:3