Holy Trinity, Blythburgh, Suffolk
My favorite church in England.
Ten years earlier, I had written:
Maybe some counties have a church which sums them up. If there must be one for Suffolk, it have to be the church of the Most Holy Trinity, Blythburgh. Right here is the Suffolk creativeness writ massive, as massive because it will get, and never overwritten by the Anglican triumphalism of the 19th century. Blythburgh church is usually in contrast with its close to neighbour, St Edmund at Southwold, however this is not a good comparability – Southwold church is far grander, and filled with city confidence. Most likely a greater comparability is with St Margaret, Lowestoft, for there, too, the Reformation intervened earlier than the tower could possibly be rebuilt. The 2 church buildings have quite a bit in widespread, however Blythburgh has the saving grace. It’s so fascinating, so stunningly stunning, by advantage of an element that’s uncommon in Anglican parish church buildings: sheer neglect.
Holy Trinity, Blythburgh, is the church that Suffolk folks know and love greatest, and due to this it has generated some great legends. The primary is that Blythburgh, now a tiny village bisected by the fearsome A12 between London and the east coast ports, was as soon as a thriving medieval city. This concept is used to elucidate the dimensions of the church; in actuality, it’s virtually actually not the case. Blythburgh has all the time been small. But it surely did have an necessary medieval priory, and thus its church attracted sufficient rich piety on the eve of the Reformation to bankroll a spectacular rebuilding.
It’s to Lavenham, Lengthy Melford, Mildenhall, Southwold and right here that we come to see the late 15th century Suffolk aesthetic in perfection. However for my cash, Holy Trinity, Blythburgh, is probably the most vital medieval artwork object within the county, rating alongside Salle in Norfolk. Search for on the clerestory; it appears inconceivable, there’s a lot glass, so little stone; and but it rides the constructing with an air of permanence. Beneath, there’s a coyness concerning the aisles that I favor to the arithmetic of Lavenham. Right here, it couldn’t have been completed in any other case; it distils human architectural expertise. If St Peter and St Paul at Lavenham is man speaking to God, Holy Trinity at Blythburgh is God speaking to man.
On the east finish, a curious sequence of initials in Lombardic script stretch throughout the outer chancel wall. You’ll be able to see a picture of this within the left hand column. It reads A-N-JS-B-S-T-M-S-A-H-Okay-R. This most likely stands for Advert Nomina JesuS, Beati Sanctae Trinitas, Maria Sanctorem Anne Honorem Katherine Reconstructus (‘Within the identify of the blessed Jesus, the Holy Trinity, and in honour of holy Mary, Anne and Katherine, this was rebuilt’). A fantastic principle is that they’re the initials of the wives of the donors. Nevertheless, be aware the image of the Trinity within the T stone, and I feel this can be a clue to the entire piece.
Excessive above, an previous man sits on the gable finish. Extremely, this can be a medieval picture of God the Father, and extraordinary survival; we’ll come again to this in a second.
The porch is a part of the late 15th century rebuilding, however it was significantly restored within the early 20th century. Curiously, the angels crowning the battlements look medieval – however they weren’t there in 1900, so will need to have come from some place else. Just about all of the porch’s options of curiosity date from this time. These embody the small medieval font pressed into service as a holy water stoup, and picture area of interest above the doorways. This has been crammed in newer years by a picture if the Holy Trinity; God the Father holds the Son suspended whereas a dove representing the Holy Spirit alights; you possibly can see medieval variations of this at Framlingham and Little Glemham.
Of all medieval imagery, this was probably the most frowned upon by puritans. A picture of God the Father was thought probably the most suspicious of all idolatry. As late because the 1870s, when the Reverend White edited the primary widespread version of the Diary of William Dowsing, he really congratulated Dowsing on destroying photos of the Holy Trinity in the middle of his 1644 progress via the counties of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
William Dowsing visited on the morning on April ninth, 1644. It was a Tuesday, and he had spent many of the week within the space. The day prior to this he’d been at Southwold and Walberswick to the east, however preceded his go to right here with one to Blyford, which lies to the west, so he was most likely staying in a single day on the household residence in Laxfield. He discovered twenty photos in stained glass to take to activity (a surprisingly small quantity, given the dimensions of the place) and 200 extra that have been inaccessible that morning (most likely within the nice east window). Three brass inscriptions incurred his wrath (however once more, that is curious; there have been many extra) and he additionally ordered down the cross on the porch and the cross on the tower. Most importantly of all, he determined the angels within the roof ought to go.
Numerous Suffolk church buildings have angels of their roofs. None are like Blythburgh’s. You step inside, and there they’re, precisely as you’ve got seen them in books and in images. They’re superior, breathtaking. There are twelve of them. Maybe there have been as soon as twenty. How would you get them down if ordered to take action? The roof is so excessive, and the stencilling of IHS symbols would additionally need to go.
Maybe this was already vague by the point Dowsing visited. Maybe Tuesday, ninth of April 1644 was a boring day.
A number of of the angels are peppered with lead shot. Right here is one other of these Suffolk legends; that Dowsing and the churchwardens fired muskets on the angels to attempt to deliver them down. However when the angels have been restored within the 1970s, the lead shot eliminated was discovered to be 18th century; modern with them there’s a be aware within the churchwardens accounts that males have been paid for capturing jackdaws residing contained in the constructing, so that’s most likely the place the shot arises from.
Equally, the luxurious church information repeats the error that the Holy Trinity image within the porch crammed a niche that had been ’empty since 1644′. However there was actually no picture in it when Dowsing arrived right here, or anyplace else in Suffolk; statues have been utterly outlawed by injunctions within the early years of the reign of Edward VI, virtually 100 years earlier than the morning of Dowsing’s go to.
One other function used as proof of puritan destruction is the ring mounted into probably the most westerly pillar of the north arcade. Cromwell’s males stabled their horses right here, apparently. Properly, it virtually actually is a hoop for tying horses to, and the damaged bricks on the cleared west finish additionally recommend this; however there isn’t any cause to suppose that Cromwell and the puritans have been accountable. For a full century earlier than Cromwell, and for practically 200 years afterwards, a church as large as this might have had a mess of makes use of.
Holy Trinity was constructed for the rituals of the Catholic church; as soon as these have been not allowed, a village like Blythburgh, which may by no means have had greater than 500 folks, would have seen it as an asset in different methods. It was solely with the 19th century sacramental revival led to by the Oxford Motion that we began getting all holy once more about our parish church buildings. Maybe it was used as an in a single day stables for passing travellers on the primary highway; not an un-Christian use for it to be put to, I feel.
In August 1577, an awesome storm introduced down the steeple, which fell into the church and broken the font. This was on the top of Elizabethan superstition, and the satan was blamed; his hoof marks can nonetheless be seen on the church door. Supposedly, a black canine ran via the church, killing two parishioners; he was seen the identical day at St Mary, Bungay. Black Shuck is the East Anglian satan canine, the dreaded hound of the marshes; and Holy Trinity is the self-styled Cathedral of the Marshes, so it’s acceptable that he appeared right here.
You’ll be able to see the place the font has been damaged. You can too see that this was one of many uncommon, stunning seven sacrament fonts, comparable in model to the one at Westhall; however, like these at neighbouring Wenhaston and Southwold, it has been utterly stripped of images. Nearly actually, this was within the 1540s, however there’s a story that the font at Wenhaston was chiselled clear as a part of the 19th century restoration.
Extra importantly in any case, the storm, or the canine, or the satan, broken the roof; it will not be correctly repaired for greater than 400 years. All through the 17th and 18th centuries, accounts be aware that Holy Trinity will not be impregnable to the climate. By the 19th century, parishioners attended divine service with umbrellas. By the 1880s, it was a positively harmful constructing to be in, and the Bishop of Norwich ordered it closed.
Why had Holy Trinity not been restored? Merely, this can be a large church, with a tiny village. There was no wealthy patron, and in any case the parishioners had a ardour for Methodism. Most likely, repairs had been mooted, however not a wholesale restoration as we’ve seen at Lavenham, Lengthy Melford and Southwold. By the 1880s, consideration in England had turned to the preservation of medieval element; briefly, restorations weren’t as ignorant as that they had been 1 / 4 of a century earlier. Options that Holy Trinity needs to be restored within the method of the opposite three have been blocked by the Society for the Preservation of Historical Buildings, and this owed quite a bit to the vitality of William Morris, the Society’s secretary.
The sluggish, affected person restoration of this constructing took the very best a part of a century; certainly, once I first visited within the 1980s I used to be nonetheless conscious of a way of decay.
Nothing could possibly be farther from the reality at this time. You step into a large, white, open house, considered one of England’s nice church interiors. There, excessive above you, is the fantastic roof and the angels of God. The brick flooring unfold across the scraped font, which nonetheless bears its dedicatory inscription and standing locations for members. You flip into the central gangway, and greater than twenty empty indents for brasses stretch earlier than you. Dowsing will be blamed for the destruction of hardly any of them. In actuality, you see the work of 18th and 19th century thieves and collectors.
The bench-ends are excellent. The benches themselves have been reconstructed within the late 19th century, supposedly from the primary submit of Westleton windmill, however the ends are a few of the county’s best medieval photos. There are principally three sequence: the seven lethal sins, the seven works of mercy, and the 4 seasons. There are additionally angels bearing symbols of the Holy Trinity and the crown. Examples of all of those will be seen under; hover on them to learn an outline, click on on them to see them enlarged.
The rood display screen is a disappointment; most of it’s fashionable, and the medieval bits perfunctory and scoured. Having stated this, be aware how tiny the exit from the north aisle rood loft stair is. Additionally at this finish of the church, discover a naked scattering of medieval glass, together with some Saints.
However step via the central aisle to see one thing outstanding. The choir stalls are fronted by beautiful carvings of the 12 apostles, evangelists, and even figures who could also be King Anna and his daughter St Etheldreda. She based the priory that grew to become Ely Cathedral, and there’s a native connection as a result of her father was killed on the Battle of Blythburgh. It appears doubtless that there was a shrine to them right here.
Seeing these sixteen carvings is a bit like gobbling up a really massive field of candies, however it’s price stopping to contemplate fairly how real all of them are. For a begin, there couldn’t have been choir stalls right here in medieval instances, and in any case we all know that these desks and their frontages have been within the north aisle chapel till the 19th century. They have been used as college benches within the 17th century; they nonetheless bear holes for inkpots, and the graffiti of a bored Dutch baby (his father was most likely engaged on draining the marshes) is dated 1665 – you possibly can see it within the left-hand column. There’s nothing in any respect like them anyplace else in Suffolk, and though we all know that they predate the restoration of Holy Trinity (and subsequently virtually actually come from right here initially) they appear of too excessive a top quality to return from such a rural outback. Briefly, they don’t seem to be medieval, regardless of the guidebooks say.
No matter, the east finish of the chancel and aisles are thrillingly fashionable, wholly devotional. Within the north aisle, historically the Hopton chantry, extraordinary friezes of skeletons turn into symbols of the 4 evangelists behind the altar. Beside them, with a view into the sanctuary, is considered one of Suffolk’s greatest Easter sepulchres, tomb of the Hoptons. Within the surviving sedilia of the excessive altar, we discover Peter Ball’s stunning Madonna and Little one and a effective Holy Trinity plate, which distract maybe solely barely from the Jewish imagery above the reredos. It’s all nearly good.
Tucked to 1 aspect of the organ is a clockjack; Suffolk has two, and the opposite is down-river at Southwold. They date from the late 17th century, and presumably as soon as struck the hours; at excessive church Blythburgh and Southwold at this time, they’re used to announce the entry of the ministers.
It’s possible you’ll be studying this entry in a far-off land; or maybe you might be right here at residence. No matter, in case you have not visited this church, then I urge you to take action. It’s the most stunning church in Suffolk, a beautiful artwork object, and it’s all the time open in daylight. It stays one of the vital medieval buildings in England. Should you solely go to considered one of Suffolk’s church buildings, then make it this one.
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