There was a church in Bunny at the time of the Domesday book, probably built from about 1000 AD. It was probably a mission church built by the lay lord of the area to extend the conversion to Christianity. The spiritual welfare of the populace was served by the provision of a rector or vicar. A full list of their names, displayed in the church, dates back to 1228 and a Robert de Glamorgan.
Bunny Church viewed from Loughborough Road
The right to recommend or appoint a member of the clergy to a post, known as the advowson, could be bought and sold along with the land. The advowson for Bunny passed into various hands as family fortunes fluctuated. In 1315 Ralph Freschville sold it to Robert de Woodhouse who had no heirs and, as he grew older, sold his land to convert his wealth into money for charitable purposes. He commissioned masons to build a chancel but work was abandoned before windows or elaborate furnishings were installed.
Thomas de Ferrers bought the advowson in 1342, who promptly passed it over to Ulverscroft Priory. In 1354 it was ordained that there should be a perpetual vicar at Bunny with a forty shillings pension providing the salary. There had been over the years controversy over the ownership of the land and advowson. This had had an adverse effect upon the state of the church building, as did the Black Death which must have reached the village in 1350. Overall, throughout the country, the plague was to cut the workforce by one third and this had an effect on Bunny Church. The highly skilled artisans and stonemasons working on the church must have been among the victims as the work stopped. It is possible today to see where the work was halted, and the different workmanship when the work recommenced.
The interior of Bunny Church looking towards the choir
The present building has developed over several centuries. The nave and aisles were built of loosely-coursed rubble, quite different from the hewn, squared stone of the later 14th Century chancel and tower. Inside there is an oak screen, also dated as 14th Century and the Vestry has a medieval aumbry - a cupboard where the sacred vessels were kept. The south porch, with its stone seats, was added in the 15th Century.
The south porch
The churchyard in its original area could have accommodated 1200 grave plots of modern size (8' by 4'), but this assumes that all the land would have been marked out to optimum capacity. The priest might have reserved some of this large domain for his own purpose. Of the remainder, that on the north side might have been used only to bury the unbaptised and the unshriven, and so the available grave plots might have been no more than 900, or 1000 if they were smaller and closely packed.
A working hypothesis is that the churchyard, in its original size, was full by the end of the Middle Ages. Before then, the Black Death had struck and it can only be a guess but perhaps all those unfortunates were buried in the southwest corner - a plot which, because of natural fear, lay undisturbed and not used again for centuries. The south side (and the sunny side) of the churchyard was the most popular and heavily used. Certainly the ground is higher there and would suggest that it has been re-used several times. We might suppose that this south side was filled for a second time by the mid seventeenth century and yet again by 1800. From an examination of existing gravestones, it appears that the nineteenth century incumbents found and filled plots where they could and the pressure built for additional areas to be taken in during the early twentieth century.
In all probability, the remains of more than 8.000 corpses lie buried in our churchyard, one on top of another. There are today only 390 visible memorials remaining!
Photos from the top of the church spire can be viewed on the Bunny