St Edmund’s Church

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This is one of Suffolk's grand wool churches, built in 1460 in the Perpendicular style, replacing a smaller building which was destroyed by fire. Funded by wealthy wool merchants, money was no object and the outside is one of the best examples of flint flushwork. The local flint and stone from Caen are used to make contrasting patterns of dark and light.

Surrounded by a graveyard, it is the focal point of the town. It has a tall, very ornate square tower with a decorative parapet. Round west window is latin inscription (St Edmund Pray for Us) with each letter under a flushwork crown. The clerestory runs the length of the nave and chancel. They have a green copper roof added when the roof was rebuilt in the mid 19thC. The small open tower above the chancel arch is a copy of the original sanctus bell turret. The side aisles are lower and have a battlemented top, splendid gargoyles and large stepped buttresses. The south porch has a chequer board flushwork design on the walls, and a priest's room above. The porch has a vaulted ceiling with carved bosses, stone benches along the walls and the remains of old glass in the windows.

Inside, light floods into the church through the plain glass windows in the nave. A German bomb blew out the Victorian tinted glass in 1943.

It is a big church and the tall slender pillars and pointed arches separating nave and side aisles emphasise the height. The ceiling was replaced during the 19thC restoration of the church. it is a single hammer beam ceiling with angels on the posts. Under the beams are carved heads. The chancel ceiling has been painted and the colours hit you. The panels are turquoise with gold stars and carved bosses. Above the rood screen, the panels have painted angels.

The rood screen dates from the 15th when the church was built. The paintings in the base panels are the originals with their faces destroyed by the Puritans in the 17thC. The nave paintings represent the eleven apostles and St Paul. The south chancel screen has figures of Old Testament prophets. The north chancel screen has images of angels. The stairs to the rood loft can still be seen in the north wall.

Immediately inside the church is the shop. There is a hatchment by the south door and a wooden panel with extracts from the will of john Sayer d 1816 with details of his bequests and how the annuities left by him should be used. Next to it is a similar board for Capt John Steele d 1710.

The Royal Coat of Arms is over the north door.

At the back of the nave is the font. This originally has panels with carvings of the seven sacraments but these were hacked off in the Reformation. The font cover was destroyed in the Commonwealth and the present cover, an ornate open spire is 19thC. At 24' high, it is said to be the tallest in the country. It is certainly impressive. It was painted in 1930 at the same time as the pulpit. This is resplendent with red, green and gold paint. The lectern is equally splendid with painted carvings of the four evangelists on the stand.

Next to font is 'Southwold Jack', medieval clock ‘smiter’ in 15thC costume with axe and bell in hand.

Moving into the chancel, there are lovely parclose screens on either side with narrow fan vaulted ceilings. There are massive choir stalls with elaborately carved front panels around three sides of the chancel. hey have poppy heads and carved arm rests. These are regarded as some of the best in Suffolk. They were used for a school in the 18thC and like schoolboys after them, have carved initials on the benches.

High on the north wall is the organ with a superb carved wood front and angels holding shields below and angels blowing trumpets above. On the south wall is a sedilia and triple deck piscina.

There are monuments on the walls and old tomb slabs on the floor.

Steps lead up to the altar which has a painted 20thC reredos with scenes from Christ's ministry. The East window was designed by Niniam Comper in 1954 and has scenes of the martyrdom of St Edmund.

I'd discounted what I thought was a drop leaf table in the south aisle , until I read it was a rare survivor of an Elizabethan communion table… Don't take anything for granted in our churches, there may be unexpected treasures.

St Edmund's Church is splendid, but I have to confess we didn't find it as attractive as nearby Blythburgh. It is open daily and it should be possible to find somewhere to park in the surrounding streets.

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