||St Bene't vies with Bungay St Edmund and Lowestoft Our Lady Star of the Sea for the title of Suffolk's most spectacular
Catholic church. And yet, they are all very different. St
Edmund is jewel-like, while Star of the Sea is a palace
of delights, an Arts and Crafts movement treasure box. St
Bene't is something grander than both, more austere; an
articulate French Romanesque revival that has been
admired by many who tend to be sniffy about the early
of the Waveney valley that is for ever northern France.
St Bene't Minster is that rare thing in Suffolk, a
Catholic church with its own graveyard.
It sits on a hill in the south of the
town, surrounded by that rare thing, its own graveyard.
Norman arches clamber and interlock to form clerestories and triforia; a bold apse
extends beyond the solid four-square tower.
west front above the Bungay road.
||Fronting all this is the fine
west end.It is all cathedral quality work; not
entirely coincidentally, this is the only
Catholic church in Suffolk with its own guide
book, and a good one too.
church was built between 1900 and 1908, and was
planned as the minster church of a large priory.
An earlier church survives, now the parish hall.
The architect was Frederick
Banham, and the costs were defrayed by the
Kenyons of nearby Gillingham Hall, across the
border in Norfolk.
Banham was a local Catholic
architect, and is buried in the graveyard here,
beside his young son, who died during the period
in which Banham was building the church.
Although the Benedictines never
came in force, the church was served until the
1970s by the monks of Downside Abbey, and links
are still maintained.
Because of all this, it doesn't
feel like an East Anglian church at all, and
seems most exotic in one of the busy little
Waveney Valley market towns.
Inside, the ambulatory around
the nave contains the Stations of the Cross, and
enhances the sense of solidity. One imagines the
|Above, the triforium lifts the
eye heavenwards, and light infuses from the
liturgical east (actually south).
Since Vatican II, the altar has been moved forward from the apse to
beneath the crossing.
One moving feature is a board
to the guild of Corpus Christi, which existed
here in Beccles before its suppression by the
Anglican reformers in the 1540s. It was revived
in the 1890s, and still exists today.
Catholic priests ministered at St Michael in the market square in those days, of
course, although very little evidence of them
grave of 12 year old Oswald Banham, son of
Frederick Banham, the architect of this church.
east; well, south, but you know what I mean. Like
a French cathedral, but the rood would once have
been everywhere in Suffolk.