An ancient church dating back eight centuries has been put at risk by thieves stealing lead from the roof.

The roof at St Mary-at-Finchley is deteriorating at “an alarming rate” say church officials, with rainwater leakage caused by thefts of gutters and downpipes.

Added to that is the slate roof now past its expected lifespan and deteriorating rapidly.

Emergency funding has now been rushed in to repair the roof of the 13th century church on the site of even earlier sacred grounds going back to Saxon times.

A £10,000 National Churches Trust grant will help to pay for repairs, with another £10,000 from the Wolfson Foundation.

“This church is an important part of our community,” the rector Philip Davison said. “This support means our project will transform the heritage of St Mary’s so that future generations will be able to discover a place for worship, for community and for reconnecting with history.”

The repairs are now getting under way for the New Year.

Parish officials say the rainwater has been a hazard for worshippers. Plasterwork is deteriorating and areas of the church often have to be condoned off, including the children’s corner.

Water damage is also endangering the historic Victorian organ, which now has to be covered with a tarpaulin.

National Churches Trust chief executive Claire Walker said: “We are supporting St Mary’s to carry out urgent roof repairs to protect this important heritage and keep the building open.”

St Mary’s runs services for Ukrainians, including refugees from the war zone, and is in partnership with north London’s Jewish community for Holocaust memorial commemorations as well as being used for parliamentary hustings during general elections.            

The church in Hendon Lane is the oldest building in Finchley, existing back to the 13th Century, when it was known as ‘The Church of Our Ladye at Fynchesley’.

It has been affected by historical events, with ornaments destroyed during the Civil War in the 1640s and bomb damage during the Blitz in 1940, which destroyed the east end.

But it’s not the first time in that long history that lead thieves have struck. The roof had to be repaired in 1812 after the lead covering was stolen. The last major restoration was 1953, to repair the wartime bomb damage.