The History of Littleton and its Church
Littleton is a Saxon place name meaning, not surprisingly, a small settlement. It does not have its own entry in the Domesday Book of 1086, and it has been suggested that this is because the parish was part of Laleham at the time. It is first mentioned by name in 1166 when the manor belonged to William Blunt, whose family also owned land in Laleham, which tends to support this theory.
The parish church of St. Mary Magdalene dates from 1135, and is believed to have been founded by monks from the Benedictine Abbey at Chertsey, who then served at the church for nearly 200 years. To mark this connection Cardinal Basil Hume, himself a Benedictine, preached at the church’s 850th anniversary service in 1985.
The building has had many alterations over the years. The tower is Tudor, and in the 18th century was heightened. A burial chapel and mausoleum for the Wood family were added to the north side about the same time. The font dates from the 13th century or earlier, and some of the pews are of 15th century workmanship, as is the font cover. The chancel includes features donated by Sir Richard Burbidge of Littleton Park house in memory of his wife, and the church designer Martin Travers made a number of contributions in the 1930s and 1940s, including three stained glass windows in the nave. The three bells are thought to date from 1666, though one has a feint outline of another date, 1576.
The old rectory which once stood opposite the church, a substantial ‘Queen Anne’ building dating from 1699, was demolished in 1966 to make way for the new school and the housing development of Rectory Close, a new rectory also being provided.
Down the centuries, there has always been a great interest in Mary Magdalene, the follower of Jesus who was the first witness of the risen Christ. This is reflected in the dedication of 187 English churches to Mary in ancient times, including our own Littleton church. She is also a very mysterious figure, about whom there are many legends in addition to the Bible accounts.
Her name is most likely to have been a reference to the fact that she came from Magdala, a town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, about fifteen miles from Nazareth. What does the Bible tell us about her life? In the gospel of Luke, it is said that she was healed by Jesus, who drove seven demons out of her. Subsequently, she became part of a group of women who followed and cared for Jesus and the disciples on their travels.
Clearly Mary persevered in this task to the very end, for the gospels agree that she was one of those present at the Crucifixion. In paintings of the Crucifixion, the image of Mary mourning beneath the Cross has been depicted on countless occasions, and this is one of the main ways in which she is remembered. The gospels go on to record that she was present when the body of Jesus was placed in the tomb, and watched the great stone being rolled across the entrance.
Most important of all, though, is her role in the Resurrection accounts. The gospels tell us that it was Mary, together with a few other women who had followed Jesus, who discovered early in the morning that the tomb was empty and that Jesus had risen from the dead. (The gospel of John describes how she mistook someone outside the tomb for a gardener, only to find that it was the risen Jesus!) She then reported what had happened to the disciples, the first person in history to spread this good news.