Tucked away in Steetley, near Whitwell, is an exquisite little architectural gem – All Saints Chapel.
The building dates from the 12th century and is a tiny place, roughly 52ft by 15ft. There are charmingly grotesque carvings adorning its walls and it is a fine example of Norman architecture.
The building is rectangular in shape, divided into a nave, a chancel and a semi circular ‘apse’, where lies the altar.
It is thought to have been built by a man called Gley de Breton as his private chapel. The village of Whitwell is the nearest place, and is this chapel’s parish, otherwise the chapel now seems strangely away from it all.
The building fell into decay, once used as a cowshed and was for a long time without a roof, overgrown and open to the elements. It was rescued in the 1870s by a Victorian architect called J L Pearson and in 1880 the Bishop of Lichfield reconsecrated the building.
The main door has an elaborate porch, consisting of arches within arches, standing on pillars and the typically Norman style decoration of zig zags. Above are carved ‘beakheads’, like something from the Muppet Show.
During the restoration a gravestone, now inside the chapel, was found set across the entrance. It is decorated with Celtic crosses and symbols of the mass, including the hand of God blessing bread and a chalice of wine. It is thought to be a monument to Lawrence le Leche, a priest who was at the chapel at the time of the Black Death plague in 1349. He was said to be a great healer, comforting the sick and dying. This is what earned him the nickname ‘Le Leche’ which means ‘the leech’ – a name given to doctors at the time because they often used leeches in blood letting treatments.
The stained glass is modern and abstract, with beautiful colours creating dappled patches of light on the old stone walls. The whole place is a small but beautiful piece of the past, often overlooked.