St Mary’s Church

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Woolpit is an attractive village of stone, brick and plaster houses around a small Market Place. We can recommend the bakers.

The church is set at the edge of the village and the first thing we noticed when we got out of the car was bird song. The second thing was the church spire. It must be the only one like that in Suffolk… fortunately. Jenkin’s in “England’s Thousand Best Churches” is scathing about the spire, which he describes as an ‘ostentatious Northampton style spire with pierced parapet and flying buttresses. It was built to replace an earlier medieval tower and Georgian spire, built after an earlier tower was damaged in a thunderstorm, and which fell down in 1853.

It is a big flint built church. The square tower has tall pinnacles at the corners with flying buttresses to the spire and a decorate open carved parapet. Round this are uplifting carvings 'Glory to God', 'Goodwill to me'…

The south porch with room above and clerestories nave are flint flushwork. The lower side aisles and chancel are battlemented.

The south porch has been faced with stone with shields and empty niches which would have contained statues before the Reformation. Inside it has a vaulted ceiling with carved bosses and a big old oak door.

There are steps down into the church, which present a safety hazard as your eyes are immediately drawn up to look at the beautiful double hammer beam ceiling with its rows of carved angels on the ends of the beams and more angels on the double wall plates between the beams. The carved bosses have small angels on either side.The ends of the beams have carved saints in canopied niches with stone angel corbels. Many guide books describe their ceilings as ‘one of the best in Suffolk’. This one really does deserve that description.

The side aisles have beams across them with a carved centre beam with carved bosses. At intervals there are paired angels across the roof. Some of these are 19th replacements.

The chancel ceiling is less elaborate. It is a wagon ceiling with a carved frieze round the bottom. The angels have been hacked off.

Octagonal pillars with pointed arches separate nave and side aisles. Pews are late 15thC but look later from the style of the carved poppyheads and bench ends. Many of these escaped destruction from the Puritans who regarded them as heraldic rather than religious.

The brass eagle lectern dates from 1520 and was designed for a chained Bible. The wooden pulpit on its stone stem is 19thC and designed by Gilbert Scott.

Above the chancel arch is what the guide book describes as a Canopy of Honour, although it doesn’t explain what one of these is. google wasn't much help either. There are five arches with biblical scrips on a blue background set under painted fan vaulting. You really need binoculars to see all the fine detail.

Below it is the 15thC rood screen with heavy Jacobean wooden doors. The base panels were repainted in the 19thC and have paintings of saints, and kings. They are all named. Above is open tracery with part of the rood loft above which would have held the crucifix.

At the east end is a simple altar set under the big east window with its 1960s image of the Madonna and Child. Beside the altar on the south wall is a sedilia and piscina. The other windows in the chancel have fragments of medieval glass in the top lights.

This is a very attractive church and the double hammer beam ceiling really is good. It is well worth finding. The church is open 8.30-5 and there is a free car park across the road.

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