St Botolph’s Church, Boston

St Botolph’s Church in Boston is more famously known as the Boston Stump. This lovely church with its stained glass windows and air of tranquility is a delightful place to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life. It also has a fascinating history and lots to see.

Not only is St Botolph’s the widest church in England, it also has one of the tallest church towers in the land, at over 272ft /83 meters high.

Architectural symbolism, revolving around the calendar, abounds in St Botolph’s. There are:

  • 12 pillars holding up the church (representing the number months in a year)
  • 52 windows (representing the number of weeks in a year)
  • 7 doors (representing the number of days in a week)
  • 24 steps to the library (representing the number of hours in a day)
  • 60 steps to the roof (representing the number of minutes in an hour)
  • 365 steps to the top of the tower (representing the number of days in a year)

If you climb the 365 steps to the top of the tower, you can see as far as Lincoln Cathedral on a clear day, which is 32 miles away. (Please note: there is a small charge for climbing the tower).

Why St Botolph’s Church is known as the Boston Stump

There are several explanations as to why St Botolph’s is called the Boston Stump. The two most plausible are:

  • during construction, which took just over 70 years, the tower resembled a stump for many years – hence it was known as ‘The Stump’.
  • the tower of St Botolph’s can be seen for miles across the flat Lincolnshire Fens, and it resembles a tall stump emerging from the ground.

Initially, the Boston Stump referred to the tower, but now it refers to the whole church.

St Botolph’s Church History

Built in the 14th century on the site of an old Norman church, St Botolph’s was constructed to reflect the grandeur and status of Boston at this time.

Boston was England’s most important port in the 12th and 13th centuries, thanks to the flourishing wool trade. Wool was shipped from Boston to Germany, Holland, Belgium and the Baltic states. These countries were part of the Hanseatic League, a consortium of influential merchants who joined forces to become Europe’s most powerful trading organisation.

By the time that St Botolph’s was finally built, Boston’s power and wealth was in decline – reflecting the decline of that of the Hanseatic League. However, Boston’s parish church still reflected the town’s importance in its heyday.

St Botolph’s Church and the Pilgrim Fathers

One of the most important Pilgrim Fathers in America was The Reverend John Cotton, a very controversial and outspoken figure who was the Vicar of St. Botolph’s Church for many years.

Appointed fresh from Cambridge as priest in charge of St Botolph’s in 1612, this radical young cleric began drawing crowds from across Lincolnshire – and indeed, such was his growing popularity that wealthier people moved to Boston in order to be part of his congregation. Three hour long sermons were common, addressed to packed congregations!

The pulpit from which he preached his sermons is the one that is still used in St Botolph’s today.

The Reverend John Cotton became the most eminent theologian in England. However, he  made many enemies by preaching his non-conformist views and regularly found himself prosecuted at Lincoln’s Law Courts.

Fed up with constant persecution, in 1633 he sailed across the Atlantic to the New World and settled in  Boston, Massachusetts, where there was already a large contingent of settlers from Lincolnshire.

He soon became spiritual leader of this church-dominated state.  His influence increased further when he helped to draft the fundamental laws for the colony that are still applicable today.

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