This is one of Suffolk’s big wool churches, built by wealthy merchants to whom money was no object. There has been a church here since the Norman conquest although the present building dates from the 15thC when East Anglia was at the height of its prosperity from the wool trade. Traces of the earlier building can be seen inside.
At the west end is a large battlemented and buttressed tower. The west face is covered with elaborate flushwork with a pattern of stone panels filled with knapped flint. The other three sides are rough flint and quite plain. At the top of the south side is the coat of arms of Robert de la Pole, who gave money for building the church.
It has a long clerestoried nave with lower battlemented side aisles which have gargolyes with fitted with metal water spouts. The arches round the windows are brick. The chancel is flushwork. The south porch is unusual as the flint in the flushwork has been replaced by brick, probably in the 18thC. There is a priest’s room above.
Ninian Cooper was responsible for a major restoration of the church at the beginning of the 20thC and he was responsible for the rood loft.
Entry is through the north door as the south porch now has a Fair Trade shop in it.
Inside it is a large church. The tall slender pillars with their pointed arches give an impression of height and the plain glass clerestory windows flood the building with light. The wood roofs are the original although they were heavily restored in the 19thC. The crowned figures holding shields date from this time, replacing figured destroyed in the Reformation or Commonwealth. Below is a second crowned figure. The wood between the beams is carved with angel heads and flowers. There are splendid carved bosses. The last bay of the nave has been painted. In the panels is a red IHS surrounded by an intertwined green ring with small red flower motifs set o a whit background. Bosses are painted as are the crowned figures and angels heads.
Pews are 19thC and have small carved arm rests with flowers, fruits or foliage.
Above the tower arch is a stone fronted gallery with funeral hatchments.
At the back of the church is the 19thC font with symbols of the evangelists and flower motifs. it is topped by an openwork wooden spire designed by Ninian Comper.
Under an ogee arch in the north aisle is a a shrine to Our Lady with a 1960s carving of the Madonna and Child.
Across the chancel is a beautiful rood screen and loft. The base of the screen dates from about 1480 and the base panels have painted images of saints and kings set under gilded arches. They include St Edmund who was martyred near. The gilded and painted arches of the tracery support the rood loft which was added by Ninian Comper. This has the crucified Christ in the centre with Mary and St john on either side. At their feet are two serpents and there is a six winged seraphim at each end. The rood loft is more effective from a distance. Close too it looks a bit garish and lacks the delicacy of the medieval work.
On the right of the chancel arch is a small icon of the Virgin and Child.
The chancel has a wooden roof with unpainted panels with painted ribs supported by painted angel heads holding shields with the symbols of the passion. The painted bosses have a small red rose on a blue background, surrounded by gold.
There is a simple altar at the east end with a curtain below the stained glass east window, again by Ninian Comper. Images include St John, St Peter holding the keys of Heaven, Christ in the centre, St Paul and St Polycarpe who was a disciple of St John and became Bishop of Smyrna.
There is another simple altar in the south chapel which has very tall candlesticks with gilded angels holding a candle. On the wall is a painting of a wall painting found above the chancel arch during the 19thC renovations but since covered with whitewash. The stone tomb base and canopy on the north wall commemorates William Honyng who died in 1569.
At the back of the north aisle is another wall tomb with a canopy above. This has ‘beasts’ with coronets around their necks. On the back wall is an inscription to Elionora Lacey.
This is a large church and makes a strong initial impression. The 15thC rood screen is beautiful but somehow the rest of the church didn’t quite deliver for us.
The church is open everyday from 8am. There is plenty of on street parking around the church except when parents are dropping off or collecting children from the nearby primary school.