7 of Suffolk’s most interesting churches
- Credit: Geograph/Geographer
There’s no doubt that Suffolk is incredibly rich in history. To really get to grips with our region’s illustrious and captivating past, why not visit a handful of our county’s churches and make a day of it?
With over 500 historic medieval churches scattered across Suffolk, there’s certainly plenty to see this summer.
St Mary’s, Troston
This settlement’s 13th century church proudly boasts a series of impressive medieval wall paintings that remain well-preserved to this day.
As you first enter St Mary’s, you’re greeted with a large depiction of St Christopher and Christ child. Further into the church is an early painting of St George on horseback slaying a dragon, thought to date back to around 1350.
Also depicted within the church is St Edmund’s martyrdom, tied to a tree with arrows in him. This particular depiction is thought to date shortly after the emergence of the Black Death, suggesting it was painted to offer protection from the disease.
St Lawrence Church, Ipswich
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If you’ve ever wondered where the oldest remaining church bells are in the world, you don’t need to venture very far as they’re handily located right here in Suffolk. Take a trip to St Lawrence Church in the centre of Ipswich, and there you will find the set of five bells which all date back to between 1450 and 1480.
The bells – collectively known as ‘Wolsey’s Bells’ – rang for hundreds of years before falling silent in 1985 after the tower they were housed in became too unstable to support them.
24 years later however and the bells were restored in 2009 thanks to a £100,000 restoration project.
St Mary at the Elms, Ipswich
Located in the centre of Ipswich is St Mary at the Elms - an Anglican parish church that is home to the third oldest door in the entire country.
The door's historical origins were uncovered back in March this year, with British Pilgrimage Trust founder William Parsons sharing the news on Twitter. In his original tweet, he said: “We get used to hearing this sort of number in the UK, but 1,000 years of the same stone, wood and iron allowing and barring access is deeply special, even for old England.”
“I worked for many years as a school chaplain at King's School in Canterbury which is the oldest in the country — possibly the world — which was founded in 597AD, and then King's School Rochester which is the second oldest founded in 604AD. It's nice to find out about the door as that makes it three — and of course the building behind our church, the cottage, is the oldest inhabited building in Ipswich," adds parish priest Father John Thackary.
Another interesting fact about St Mary at the Elms is that it was visited by Sir Thomas More, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VII and Catherine of Aragon - who all took separate trips to the church’s Our Lady of Grace shrine. In 1297, Edward I’s daughter Princess Elizabeth, married the Count of Holland in the shrine. However, during the Restoration the original shrine was destroyed, with its famous statue taken to Chelsea to be burnt in 1538.
St Mary’s, Yaxley
This Suffolk church is home to one of only two remaining Sexton wheels in the region (with the other over the border in Norfolk).
The wheel – which is also depicted on the village sign – hangs above the south doorway within the church.
It is thought the wheel was used to decide which of the six feast days that honoured the Blessed Virgin Mary would begin a year-long fast. Six threads hung from the wheel, and when it was spun, the one that hung down would dictate which day the feast began.
St Andrew's Church, Bramfield
This 14th century church in East Suffolk has a handful of fascinating features that are definitely worth checking out. Firstly, this thatched roof church consists of a nave and chancel, and its chancel is where you will find a monument of Arthur Coke, the son of Sir Edward Coke, and his wife Elizabeth. The statue of Elizabeth was in fact carved by celebrated sculptor Nicholas Stone, who was master-mason for both James I and Charles I.
The church’s star attraction however has to be its detached round Norman tower – the only one of its kind across the whole of Suffolk. Made from flint, it is Grade I-listed, as is the church itself.
Church of St Mary, Huntingfield
This historic church has roots that go all the way back to the medieval era – with its nave containing a 12th century window opening, a chancel that is thought to date back to the 13th or 14th century, and a tower from the 15th century.
However, it is the church’s ceilings that are worth the trip alone. Visitors can be sure to admire the incredibly coloured and eye-catching angels, saints and pattern that adorn the roof’s interior.
Painted by Mildred Holland in the 19th century, this rector’s wife spent seven years laying on her back atop scaffolding as she gilded, lettered and painted the roof by herself.
St Mary’s Church, Thornham Parva
Quaint and rural, this Grade I-listed thatched church goes back to the 12th century – with traces of Anglo-Saxon stonework in its present building. Enter via the three-foot-wide Norman door and there you will see a number of medieval wall paintings, as well as the Thornham Parva Retable.
Believed to have been created in the 14th century, this retable is the largest surviving altarpiece from the Middle Ages. It measures just over four and a half metres and features eight panels of saints in niches surrounding a Crucifixion. The altarpiece was removed during the Reformation to prevent it being destroyed – and was later uncovered from a loft at Thornham Hall in 1927 before being donated to St Mary’s where it has been ever since.
Also, buried within the church’s grounds are 20th century architect Basil Spence, violinist Frederick Grinke and Dame Anne Warburton who was the first female British ambassador.
Have you got a favourite church that didn’t make the list? Get in touch with email@example.com to share yours.