Stow (or archaically, Stow-in-Lindsey) is a small village and civil parish within the West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. It is eleven miles (17 km) northwest of the city of Lincoln and six miles (9.6 km) southeast of Gainsborough, and has a total resident population of 355.
Stow, which dates back to Roman times when it was known as Sidnacester, lies along the B1241 road, and is perhaps most notable for its large parish church named "Minster Church of St Mary, Stow in Lindsey" (known locally as "Stow Minster"), which is one of the oldest such churches in the United Kingdom.
The parish of Stow, which extends to include other localities such as Coates-by-Stow, is today a mixture of modern brick and older stone built housing, some of the latter being thatched. It boasts the Cross Keys (a traditional country pub), and a small Methodist chapel, but the village remains dominated architecturally by the large "Stow Minster" church.
As a result of the 1834 Poor law Amendment, the parish of Stow became part of the Gainsborough Poor Law Union, and later, for civil registration matters, part of the Willingham sub-district of the Gainsborough Registration District.
There had been a church situated in Stow even prior to the arrival of the Danes in 870 - the year they are documented to have burnt the church down. The building remained in ruins until an Abbey was built in 1040, reputedly by bishop Eadnoth II.
Dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, Stow parish church, sometimes referred to as the "Mother Church of Lincolnshire", is one of the largest and oldest parish churches in England, and originally served as the Cathedral Church of the ancient diocese of Lindsey, founded in the 7th century, and stands on the site of a much older one.
It is partly Saxon and partly Norman in build and is designated by English Heritage as a "Scheduled Ancient Monument" and was also included in the World Monuments Fund's 2006 list of the world's 100 most endangered sites. It has the tallest Saxon arches in Europe, the earliest known example of Viking graffiti in England (a rough scratching of an oared Viking sailing ship, probably dating from the 10th century), a font that is Early English, standing on nine supports with pagan symbols around its base and an early wall painting dedicated to Thomas à Becket.
Ralph de Diceto attributes the church's foundation to Elnothus Lincolniensis, almost certainly Bishop Aelfnoth of Dorchester round about 975 AD, who built the church, possibly on the site of an earlier wooden Saxon church, to serve as Minster (or mother church) for the Lincolnshire part of his large diocese, it was a sort of cathedral because part of the bishop's household of priests (which later became the cathedral chapter) lived in Stow and administered this part of the diocese. The memory of this period gave rise to the tradition that Stow is the Mother Church of Lincoln Cathedral.
It is said to have been re-founded and re-endowed in 1054 by Leofric and Godiva (of Coventry fame) encouraged by Bishop Wulfwig as a Minster of Secular Canons with the Bishop at its head. In 1091 Bishop Remigius of Fécamp re-founded it as an abbey and brought monks to it from Eynsham, describing the church as having been a long time deserted and ruined. Within five years his successor had transferred the monks back from where they had come and St Mary's had become a parish church.
In 1865 J.L. Pearson built the stair turret outside of the church. This was originally inside the church in the nave up against the north side of the tower arch. At the same time some windows were altered and the church was re-roofed. A new vestry was added in the early 1990s with skeletons and a broken 13th century limestone cross being found during the work.
One mile (2 km) to the west of the village and lying just to the south of the Roman road known as Tillbridge Lane are to be found the remains of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Lincoln built in 1336. All that can be seen today are the earthworks of the moat and to the north and east of the site the earthwork remains of its associated medieval fish-ponds.
There is a Jacobean family pew at the west end and the rest of the seating is just rough benches sometimes described as "Rustic". There is the royal coat of arms of Charles I dating from 1635 and brasses to a William Butler and his wife, the figures on these are small and he died in 1590. In a niche there is a demi-figure made of alabaster of a Brian Cooke who died in 1653. There are also small pieces of stained glass. Outside just south of the chancel is the tomb of the Maltby family comprising an urn on a table with tapering columns as legs with a sarcophagus underneath.