At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Barningham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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          Barningham is in that part of north Suffolk which perhaps is not so well known as much of the rest of East Anglia. This is agricultural country, busy working villages set in the rolling fields to the south of the Little Ouse, the Breckland and the forests sprawling away to the west of here. A bit off the beaten track, yes, but villages like this have a life of their own with a school, a shop and a pub, a place where lives are lived and that is not just commuted from.

The church sits in the village among old and new houses, its east end close to the road. The 1870s restoration appears to have been entirely internal, and a light touch at that. Simon Cotton found a pleasing sequence of bequests from the 1430s onwards for the making of the tower and the fabric of the tower. Judging by the Decorated tracery in the chancel and the 14th Century font they were building it against a completed church, although perhaps the nave windows were being updated at the same time. By 1469 the bequests had switched to internal furnishings, suggesting that by then the tower was complete. The porch was perhaps the last piece to be finished.

You step into a tall, open space rising high above the dark wood furnishings. There is no clerestory, but the great Perpendicular windows of the nave flood the interior with light. The rood loft stairway runs up within the embrasure of the most easterly window on the south side of the nave, and the height of its exit suggests that no clerestory would have been needed. The most notable feature of the nave is the collection of medieval bench ends. They are not dissimilar to those at Stowlangtoft, and so perhaps are not part of the same group as those at neighbouring Ixworth Thorpe and Honington. Most of them are animals, although there are also mythical creatures, what appears to be two figures from a Seven Deadly Sins sequence, and one joke at the expense of the clergy, a fox, now rendered pig-like having lost his ears and muzzle, in a pulpit.

kneeling man (15th Century) lion (15th Century) cock (15th Century)
fox with a goose in its mouth (15th Century) fowl (15th Century) squirrel?  (15th Century)
fox in a pulpit (15th Century) crowned eagle strange figure
bear with a collar owl unicorn

Another curiosity is the painted wooden board to the west of the south door. Its inscription reads Flagellatus est IHC sancta trinitas unus deus. Sepultus IHC. These words are from the Catholic liturgy for Holy Saturday, and Mortlock argues convincingly that this is part of a movable Easter Sepulchre of the 15th or 16th Century. This would make it a unique survival in East Anglia.

Not quite as unusual, but equally interesting, are the gates that were added in the 17th Century to the 15th Century roodscreen. They present a bit of a puzzle. At some time after the Reformation the chancel step was lowered. It was not raised again until the mid-19th Century restorers took the chancel to task. How, then, are the gates able to accommodate the step? One possible answer is that the step was raised and the gates were installed together as part of the Laudian reforms in the first decades of the 17th Century, and then the step was lowered as part of the Puritan reaction of the 1640s by which time such things as raised chancels were seen to be popish and superstitious. The gates could have been kept as useful for cordoning off a space that could be used for other purposes, a school or a meeting room perhaps.

The screen itself is fine. Cautley reported figures on the dado in the 1930s, but there are none visible now. Beside it is a lovely piscina, which would have served an altar in this corner. A brass for the priest William Goche, who died in 1499, shows him as a rather portly, amiable fellow. He looks well suited to this church, of which he was rector, especially on a bright summer's day, the birds outside singing, the nave flooded with light, the spirits lifted.


Simon Knott, January 2021

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looking east altar and reredos screen gates (early 17th Century)
Victoria royal arms William Goche, MDCCCCLXXXIX 14th Century font and 17th Century font cover rood loft stairway
works of mercy: feed the hungry works of mercy: comfort the dying angels holding a set square set as a cross and a crown works of mercy: give water to the thirsty works of mercy: clothe the naked
follow me and I will screen piscina and rood stair
part of an Easter sepulchre


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