Just outside the walls of Hatfield House, at the top of the steep road up Fore Street (once part of the Great North Road from London) stands the historic parish church, with its fifteenth century tower, built when the Old Palace was the residence of the Bishops of Ely, and dedicated to their patron saint, St. Etheldreda.
The church has been extended, rebuilt, repaired and altered throughout its history, to suit the needs of the Christian community of the parish.
People have gathered here for a thousand years to express their beliefs about the invisible, intangible, eternal world beyond human senses, to share joys and grief and fellowship, and to dedicate their lives to the service of God and their fellow men.
For the Christian heritage is more than the stones of buildings such as this. The church is a meeting place for worship, where through the centuries the spiritual life of Christians has been experienced in prayer and meditation, in the music, poetry and drama of the liturgy, in the festivals of the Church’s year, and in the rich symbolism of Christianity, especially the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Here the words of the Bible, developing the story of the loving relationship of God and Man revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, inspire people to live by the Christian ideals of love and forgiveness, with the reassurance of salvation. But though God is eternal, the forms and ideas of religious life change with changing society.
In the uncertain world of the Middle Ages, chantry chapels were built for masses to be sung for the repose of souls; in the more secure Victorian age the church was rebuilt and refurbished with stone, marble and oak.
In the twenty-first century, a thriving and more egalitarian Christian community of all ages worships Sunday by Sunday in the family communion, round the simple modern altar, which can be moved aside if needed.
Weddings baptisms and funerals bring families and community together as they have for a thousand years. In the English tradition, the church has many memorials to people of standing in the community – statesmen and gentry, clergy and doctors, farmers, merchants and brewers, women of property and piety, army and naval officers, and ordinary soldiers who gave their lives in wars. They and many others are buried in the churchyard; their successors carry on the Christian life today.