*  Of interest to Family Historians - Hertfordshire Church of England Parish Registers from 1538 are now available online - only most recent registers are held at the church   *
Holy Water Stoup


As you step inside St Mary’s Church look to the right. In the wall, occasionally holding flowers, is an unusual object in an Anglican church. This is a Holy Water Stoup. It was hidden from view for hundreds of years and only seen during the last few years.

Apart from St Mary’s, there are only four remaining stoups in Hertfordshire churches. Others are to be found throughout the country, usually inside the church itself, but sometimes in the south porch.

In medieval times the stoups held holy water, which was blessed once a week before mass. On entering the church, worshippers dipped their fingers into the water and crossed themselves as a reminder of their baptismal vows. To prepare the water, salt was exorcised, then blessed; the water itself was then exorcised and blessed, the salt was sprinkled over it in the form of a cross,and then a final blessing given to the mixture.

Holy water stoups are still in use in the Roman Catholic Church, and in many Anglo-Catholic churches. However, at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, their use was discontinued in the Church of England, and many were destroyed, especially by the Puritans in the 17th century, along with many other church fixtures and fittings which were thought to be too reminiscent of Roman Catholicism.

At St Mary’s the front of the basin was removed, and the remainder filled in, plastered over and whitewashed. During the restoration of the church in 1991-2 the stoup was discovered and opened up. There was some discussion as to whether it should be left in the state in which it was found. But a new basin was made and attached to the existing remains, and now flowers are displayed there from time to time. As you can see, the shape of the arch, called an ogee, is very similar to the design of the top of the windows, suggesting it was made at the same time, probably around 1341.


Some years ago, Patricia Cook, a former Churchwarden at St. Mary's, wrote a series of informative articles on interesting aspects of the fabric of St. Mary's for the Parish Magazine. These are reproduced here, together with line drawings by Jean Atkinson, a well known local artist, who has been closely involved with St. Mary's for many years, including serving on the PCC.

The Amber Tankard Holy Water Stoup The Mass Dial
Seating over the years A hidden gem Gargoyles, Corbels or Label-stops?
Decalogue Board A rare tomb Elephants and Royal Arms
Pulpit Kesteven Brass The Somers Memorial
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