||Antiquarians and ecclesiologists
have not been very kind to our parish church, begins
Terence Smith's guidebook to this church. A little harsh
on Mortlock, perhaps, who
greatly enjoyed the setting, but Cautley was certainly dismissive. Maybe I don't count
as an antiquarian or ecclesiologist, but I am going to go
against the grain and say that I think this is a
delightful church. It is full of interest; if you can,
for one moment, abandon your quest for the medieval.
little St Clare - or is it All Saints?
You come to it from Bradfield Combust, along high tree-lined lanes that recall the
memory of Arthur Young senior, of Bradfield Hall, who
first planted them more than 200 years ago. The Youngs
are one of two remarkable families in this area, but
probably they would admit to second place behind the St
Cleres, who were Lords of the Manor here throughout most
of the Medieval period.
They were great crusaders, and the
image of St George in crusading armour at Bradfield Combust, despite postdating the crusades by two
centuries, may be based on a St Clere family portrait.
||Much has been made of the fact
that this church bears a unique dedication in
England for a medieval church. St Clare was a
companion of St Francis, and lived in the 13th
century, by which time the Parish system and its
churches in England was already well-established
(there aren't many St Francis dedications,
either). Sadly, and as you may have already
guessed, it isn't actually the case.
As you often find over the border in
Essex, the village here is named not after a
Saint at all, but after the St Clere family.
(Although less common in Suffolk, this type of
village naming does occur in several places,
notably Ashbocking and
The medieval dedication here
was to All Saints, not to St Clare. The modern
dedication was adopted as recently as the 19th
century, and although it would be possible to
blame 18th century antiquarians for making the
mistake that led to it (as is often the case) it
seems an entirely reasonable mistake to make.
After the Puritan era, and before the Oxford Movement revival, Parish churches were usually named
after their villages.
It seems natural that 'Bradfield St
Clere Church' could easily become 'St Clare's Church'.
However, the modern Parish has happily adopted its new
dedication, and why not?
You cross a steep railway bridge over
the now-vanished Sudbury to Bury line, part of which is a
footpath to the south of here. You enter a hamlet of
pleasant cottages, and the church is away in the fields,
with an incongruously large water tower for company.
|The graveyard is beautifully
sheltered, if a little overneat. The church
itself also looks well cared for, its exterior
bearing witness to the fact that the tower
collapsed in a storm in 1873, and during the
rebuilding the opportunity was taken to
completely refurbish the rest of the structure.
All except the chancel and nave walls dates from
this time and later.
was delighted to find the church open, a rare
occurence in the Bury area. I stepped into a
gorgeously warm interior, all limewash and
polish. The church is full of light, the
whiteness of the walls reflecting the sunshine
pouring in through the high windows.
The Victorian restoration was a
good one, high quality work that has aged well.
In any case, research has found little evidence
that anything of any value or interest was
destroyed by it; antiquarians in the late 18th
and early 19th centuries had found it, to quote
David Davy, little in any way interesting.
Offsetting the modern nave is the ancient chancel, rebuilt in the late 15th century. The
roof is a delight, and again, light pours in
through the seriously perpendicular windows. They
give a sense that the church is bigger than it
Here you'll find a feel of the
medieval, but don't neglect the extraordinarily
good modern needlework of the communion rail
cushion, which was worked locally and features
buildings in the parish.
I liked this church a lot. I
liked above all its sense of continuity, that
here was a fairly simple parish church that had
been buffeted and shaken by the winds of history,
and had responded by reflecting the changing
aesthetics, theologies and emotions of its
the St Clere family above a door set in the
filled-in tower arch - a vestry beyond it,
Terence Smith puts it better than me: To
look into this church today is to look into a mirror of
the Church of England. Here are almost the last vestiges
of the Old Faith cleared away, and the depredations of
the Puritans made good - decent at least. It is like
looking into the face of the Elizabethan settlement.
Finally, I will also go on record as
saying that, after visiting well over 500 churches in
Suffolk, the guidebook for Bradfield St Clare is the best
of all of them.
St Clare, Bradfield
St Clare, is located just to the east of the A134 Bury to
Sudbury road. Follow the signposts from Bradfield
Combust, and turn right at the junction. I found it open.