January 16 – A church micro day around Laxfield, Horham, Stradbroke

Denham, Eye, Yaxley, Thornham Parva, Thornham Magna, Stoke Ash, Thorndon

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

A fine, blue, clear day today so we are off to visit some more churches in Suffolk. We were heading to Eye but the road through Framlingham was closed for repairs and we had to take a long detour which is when we noticed Laxfield. Laxfield is the birthplace of William DowsingIn 1643 he was appointed “Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition” to carry out a Parliamentary Ordinance of 28 August 1643 which stated that “all Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry should be removed and abolished”, specifying: “fixed altars, altar rails, chancel steps, crucifixes, crosses, images of the Virgin Mary and pictures of saints or superstitious inscriptions.” In May 1644 the scope of the ordinance was widened to include representations of angels (a particular obsession of Dowsing’s), rood lofts, holy water stoups, and images in stone, wood and glass and plate.

All Saints, Laxfield is an unusual church as it is extra wide with no side aisles and the central aisle is wide too. It had lots of brasses in the past but they have all been removed. It has a wonderful seven sacraments octagonal font on a two-tiered plinth from about 1500. The font is still lovely despite the heads being lopped off. There is a boxed area of pews at the back of the church for men and boys who were given an education as long as they went to church on a Sunday. The panelling on the 18th-century family box pews are lovely and there is a lovely variety of tapestry kneelers with Bible verses. It also had a Queen Anne coat of arms and a pedestal poor box from 1664. We found the geocache for the church despite the hint which was a red herring but the next two caches we did not find which is very disheartening.

We visited All Saints church in Stradbroke which is a huge church with two side aisles. There was a lady playing the organ when we walked in which added to our experience. There was a Queen Elizabeth II coat of arms and a 15th-century octagonal font with the bowl panels carved alternately with angels bearing shields and the signs of the Evangelists. It also sat on four intact lions and four woodwoses around the stand. There were some lovely heraldic stained glass window and a tiled floor in the chancel. The rood screen panels depict Old Testament Kings. The church had an amazing reredos in wood with a decalogue and a stained glass window above. The list of rectors date from 1314. Stradbroke also had a lovely village sign.

Next, we visited St Mary’s church in Horham. It had rectors dating from 1312 and a wonderful altar cloth embroidered with summer flowers which is very cheerful and inspiring. I am looking forward to starting some needlework sometime soon. The 15th-century octagonal font has shield-bearing angels alternating with lions. The carved wooden chairs in the sanctity are very impressive and makes one admire the workmanship of past years.

We then found a cache at St John the Baptist in Denham as well as the village sign cache.

We reached Eye and visited St Peter and St Paul church first. It dates from the 14th-century and is considered to be one of the finest in Suffolk It is full of interesting things including the font and seating by JK Colling in 1869 and the lovely font cover by Sir Ninian Comper in 1932. A particular feature of the church is the magnificent late 15th-century rood screen which has a loft and rood also designed by Ninian Comper in 1925. The screen is painted and gilded with two angels, two saints and Jesus on the cross. The dado has nine saints on one side and six on the other (two are gone) and there are many female saints. They are, from north to south: I: St Paul, II: St Helen, III: St Edmund, IV: St Ursula and her ten thousand virgins, V: Henry VI, VI: St Dorothy, VII: St Barbara, VIII: St Agnes, IX: St Edward the Confessor, (the gap into the chancel is here), X: St John the Evangelist, XI: St Catherine, XII: St William of Norwich, XIII: St Lucy, XIV: St Thomas of Canterbury, and XV: St Cecilia. The chancel ceiling is also designed by Ninian Comper as is the east window. There is a piece of wall painting near the screen in the nave and there are small pewter stations of the cross around the church. The 31 metre (101 ft) tower has 3 hatchments. There is a tomb in the chapel and another two tombs to William Honyng dated 1569 and Nicholas Cutler dated 1568. Lough Pendred’s Shrine of our Lady dated 1973 is set in a 14th-century tomb recess. When we left we went to look for the geocache which was very near where we left the car. The coordinates did not seem overly good and so it was difficult to know where to look. There had been three DNFs before us but that did not deter us and we tried to look at it as the seasoned geocachers which we are. There was no hint so no help there. We considered giving up but we really wanted this one as the church was so good. Finally, I checked the geocaching app on the phone and found someone had found it recently and had left a photo which narrowed the search area somewhat and all of a sudden Mike found it. A real tricky on but we should have looked there earlier as both Mike and I saw it. So sneaky and a favourite point was given both for the church and for the hunt!! Just around the corner was the Eye Castle, a motte and bailey castle built during the reign of William I by William Malet, who died fighting Hereward the Wake in 1071. The castle was all locked up for the winter but we got some good photographs and also went to see the Guildhall and the Town Hall too.

At St Mary the Virgin, Yaxley we saw our first signs of spring with a patch of snowdrops. I love this time of the year. I found the cache quickly but the church was closed.

Next, we went to St Mary’s church at Thornham Parva, which is a small unassuming church from the outside though it does have a thatched roof but is a great joy on entering it and probably my favourite in Suffolk so far. On every wall is a well preserved 14th-century wall painting of St Edmund’s life, death and martyrdom. The north doorway arch doubles as a bridge for St Edmund’s cart. But even more amazing is the retable which was made in 1330 in gilt. It is really wonderful and was conserved after being found hidden in a shed. The oak panel painting behind the altar is now recognised as one of the greatest treasures of medieval art in Europe. The retable is thought to be part of a much larger altarpiece that probably once stood in the Priory at Thetford in Norfolk. The rest of the piece can be found in the Musee de Cluny in Paris. Please go to the church if you get the opportunity as it is a real treasure!

We found the geocache at St Mary’s after I changed the battery i the GPS and then went to the village sign as I had been able to do the puzzle quickly after studying French at school, sadly we could not find it.

At St Mary Magdalene in Thornham Magna, there was a fantastic stained glass window with green leaves all over it and three saints which I found especially beautiful. It also had six hatchments and wall monuments to the Henniker-Major family who were Lord’s Henniker and Barons Hartismere. It also had some lovely tile work in the chancel. There was a church micro across the road from the church and a village sign cache a short walk away. The red phone box is a book swap library.

The church of All Saints at Stoke Ash was locked but the cache was easily found then it was on to All Saints church in Thorndon. Even though it was getting dark the church was still open. The reredos was a wonderful wooden carving of the Last Supper, surrounded by a decalogue. The tile work in the sanctity was very special with roundels. The octagonal font had 4 lions but no woodwoses. There was a pigeon coop lectern where the old testament readings are made from one side and the new testament readings for the other side. The lectern has three lions at the bottom. Once outside again M climbed the gate and grabbed the cache. A nice easy find. Another great church and another favourite point.

Our last church of the day was Our Lady Of Grace in Aspall. The church was closed as it was after dark but we passed the cache on our way in so we went back and found the cache easily with the hint and a torch.

Another great day with some very special places visited.