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William de Yaxley’s heart | Yaxley History

In the year of 1842, during the progress of certain repairs and alterations in St Peter’s Church, the sculptured stone beneath the north window of this transept was taken out by the Vicar, the Rev. C. Lee, in hope of some some light being thrown on the meaning of the sculpture.

It represents two hands, somewhat mutilated, holding a heart between them.

In a cavity in the wall behind the stone, a small cylindrical box with a lid was discovered, from which, when opened, a fragrant perfume was emitted. Within the box was found a human heart, so perfect that it could be held in the hand for a moment, but on exposure to the air it almost immediately crumbled into dust. The dust was carefully and reverently replaced in the wall and the stone re-fixed, but the box has since been preserved at the Vicarage as a most valuable and interesting relic.

No inscription was found to determine with certainty to whom the heart belonged, but there is an interesting tradition connected with it, probably founded on fact, that this was the heart of William de Yaxley a native of this place, who was Abbot of Thorney from A.D. 1261 to 1293. The tradition further informs us that in 1291 he founded and endowed this chantry chapel in the north transept, one of the four chantries which the church contained when it belonged to Thorney; and direacted that after his death his body should be buried at Thorney and his heart in his chantry at Yaxley, his native place.

This tradition, if correct, is the more interesting because it almost exactly fixes the date of the earliest positions of the church, viz the chancel with its north chantry chapels and south transepts. The nave with its aisles and the steeple were rebuilt probably about A.D. 1490, after the fall of the original central steeple. The clere stories were added at that time and the whole church reroofed.