At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Bungay
(the 'Joyce' entry)

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


    This pastiche of James Joyce's Ulysses originally appeared on the Suffolk Churches site. It was a little joke, an attempt to describe a church as if James Joyce had been the visitor. It was replaced at last with a proper entry, which you can read here.

By lorries along Bungay High Street, St Mary stands soberly, over the Butter Cross, and the Fleece, and the castle beyond. Stately, plump spirelets rise from the turrets, bearing fleches on which an arrow and lightning spike lay crossed. A lattice of fretted arches is sustained gently beneath them in the mild morning air.

I photographed with relish the flintwork and flushwork, the ruined priory of God and the Holy Cross, the erect gargoyles, lions in spandrels, the punished water stoup which gave to my eye the faint hint of Catholic survivals. Signatures of all things I am here to read, angels and archangels, the nearing pinnacles, that shield of the passion. Flint black, weathered cope, stone buttress. Coloured signs. I closed my eyes to hear my shoes brushing ancient grass and grassy gravel. Am I walking into eternity through St Mary's churchyard?

Swish, swash, crush.


Walnut by plaster, W. B.'s dole cupboard of 1673. Q rat? Curate. Primitive bishops watch on, watch passing generations. I sauntered sadly from bright light, sauntering sadly, light no more. A classical font, a dusky battered plate, rises up like Holy Trinity. Beyond, walled, an old retainer.



Fifteen years later, Bungay is destroyed by a fire that starts in a bakers shop. The church is gutted, and even the remarkable tower of 1470 needs rebuilding. Inside, virtually nothing medieval survives the fire, and St Mary will be variously refurnished by 18th century aesthetes (the font) 19th century sacramentalists (the altar, the glass, the eastwards position) until


the seven works of mercy in the eastern end of the north aisle are installed by Charles and Alexander Gibbs, and the panelling behind the altar is presented by local writer Henry Rider Haggard. Mortlock thinks it 17th century Flemish, and it is the best woodwork in the church because


the enthusiastic protestants of the parish took down the rood screen during the early years of Elizabeth, and were condemned for it, having to provide a replacement, of which nothing survives, since it was destroyed in the fire, presumably, and


in any case, the church is now redundant. It is the biggest and most urban redundant church in Suffolk, the local Anglicans feeling quite at home, thank you very much, in Holy Trinity across the road to the east, and now the Churches Conservation Trust watches over


the grandeur that was once a major East Anglian parish church. Beccles, where the parish church was also destroyed by fire, and at Bungay there are one or more survivals from the church's Catholic heyday, for in the south aisle he found a surviving piscina, the saving remnant.


What discrete succession of images did Simon meanwhile perceive?
Reclined against the pulpit, he perceived across the range of benches a patina of bat urine, a heady aroma of antique, two women reading a notice, a woman looking up at the west window, a man leaving the church holding a CCT guidebook.

Of what similar apparitions did Simon think?
Of others elsewhere in other times who, kneeling on one knee or two, had inhabited parish churches. Of ghosts in big churches of Blythburgh, Southwold, Lowestoft St Margaret. Of awestruck agnostics at Iken and Lindsey St James. Of American tourists at Long Melford and Lavenham.

What did Simon see on raising his gaze to the height of a yard from the women to the opposite wall?
An elegant 1760 monument for Henry Williams by Thomas Rawlins; a monument to Pergrina Browne by the first named sculptor's father; other monuments of the 18th century by Norwich artists; 18th century lead with the churchwardens names incised within.

Did he remain?
With deep inspiration he returned, retraversing the nave, reentering the porch, closing the door. With brief suspiration he reassumed the daylight, reascended to the churchyard, reapproached the High Street, and reentered.

In what directions did the narrator head?
At rest relative to his former actions, he entered the Fleece public house, and availed himself of an imperial pint of Adnam's Broadside Ale.

In what posture?
Semilaterally, in relation to the floor, knees crooked, posterior upon a chair, arms rested on a table, guidebooks open.

He rests. He has travelled.


Yes because he never saw a church like that before as be so big and urban and yet so empty and yet they are so many of them that empty nowadays except this one of course they've actually given up the ghost in not that I'd like to say for sure that Anglicans believe in ghosts or anything like that nowadays not even the Holy one he'd say but you'd know he was just having you on and pulling your leg because he wants you to think he's a radical catholic and whats all this with the writing like other writers anyway, Jesus, you'd think the man couldn't put two words together of his own.
And the weather he has in his churchyards you'd think every day was some winter storm or bright early spring or else its that he's sitting down and resting on account of the heat, Mother of God you'd think we never had a day when you'd not notice the weather because it wasn't worth a word when you could be talking about something else, and if its not the weather its some r- word, or its the people I mean what do people have to do with churches, and yet he's always meeting them and Holy God who gives a stuff about which keyholder said this and what that Vicar was moaning about I mean people read the site for the buildings, and even there he can't just call a building a building like you'd put down a straw perhaps and you'd say you see that straw Simon, that's a straw, and no he'd be going on about sacramentalism and eastwards positions and reformation, that's it, reformation I mean who's he when he's at home? and now Jesus would you credit it if he's not fancying himself like some Frenchman who writes the biggest books you've ever seen, and bringing in the women he sleeps with I mean men are such fools when you think about it or give them half a chance because if it was the women who were writing about the churches you can be sure it would be us having the fun, and not taking any notice at all of the locked doors and fearful keyholders because you can only ask so many times can't you and if I met a difficult keyholder I'd dare him with my eyes to say no and again no and I'd ask him would he no to say no and first I'd walk away from him no and think of the things I'd be doing instead of visiting the church no and writing about it no and my heart would be going like mad and no I'll say no I won't No.

Trieste-Zurich-Paris-Bungay 1914-2002

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