A celebration of Northamptonshire's churches is to be launched with the aim of promoting buildings regarded as some of the finest in the country.
2018: The Year of Northamptonshire Churches is organised by The Northamptonshire Britain's Best Surprise campaign with support from Allchurches Trust.
It has the backing of Earl Spencer, Rev Richard Coles, and author and churches expert Simon Jenkins.
Among the county's churches are Brixworth, the largest remaining 9th century church of its type in Europe, and Ninian Comper's 20th-century masterpiece of St Mary's, Wellingborough.
Northamptonshire's churches include gothic, baroque, renaissance and Victorian styles, and are rich in history: Royal Fotheringhay is associated with Richard lll and Mary, Queen of Scots. Great Brington is linked to George Washington and the Spencer family, and Ashby St Ledgers to the Gunpowder Plot.
The project will create a lasting legacy in the form of a website containing an online treasury of descriptions for 100 churches, visitor information, with details of worship and services. It is hoped that more volunteers will be recruited to help care for the county's churches over the longer term.
Rev Richard Coles, Vicar of Finedon and BBC presenter, said: 'Northamptonshire, traditionally the county of squires and spires, may be low on squires nowadays (though there are a few), but its spires endure, the finest in England, from the showpieces of Kings Sutton and Higham Ferrers to the solid broaches of Ringstead and Broughton. The towers aren't bad either, think of Earls Barton's Saxon strapwork and Titchmarsh's perpendicular splendour. And the churches they dignify are stuffed with treasures, from the Greene tombs at Lowick to the soaring neo Gothic of Comper at Wellingborough. As the temporary custodian of one of the county's finest churches I commend them all, in their variety and loveliness.'
Allchurches' chairman Sir Philip Mawer said: 'We salute this project for bringing so many different sectors of Northamptonshire life together to promote the county's churches. Civic and religious leaders, art historians, tourism experts and local communities: all these people know how special these churches are. We're glad to be helping them open their doors to the wider world.'