At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Coney Weston

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Coney Weston:click to enlarge

Coney Weston Coney Weston Coney Weston
Coney Weston Coney Weston Coney Weston 

candle   Borderlands are strange places. Suffolk merges into Cambridgeshire smoothly enough, but it is separated from Norfolk and Essex by great rivers and water meadows. Few villages straddle the rivers, and there is usually a real sense of change from one county to the other, especially on the southern border.

But up here as well there is a sense of being in a shadowy, in-between place, especially out by the old airbase. Nearby Knettishall church was derelict half a century ago, and has now been converted into a private house. The former base is a bleak place, but Coney Weston is a pleasant village, lining its southern side, and separated from it by woods - indeed this area has more than its fair share of trees. Some distance outside of its village, St Mary is almost hidden from the road by them, and comes as a surprise to the passer-by.

The setting is delicious, with the rising fields on all sides, and a copse of trees surrounding the church. The tower fell two centuries ago, and the west end now has a tall chimney rising in the corner. With the thatched roof, filled in windows and the patchy flintwork, it looks like a cottage in a Brothers Grimm fairytale.

This little church is open to pilgrims and strangers every day, and deserves all the visitors it can get. The interior is as charming as the outside, and underwent one of those low key and entirely rustic restorations of the 19th century that seem to have been influenced by the Rector. There was no money for stained glass windows, but the Rector's daughter produced some delightful paintings of angels inside the pair of medieval image niches to the south of the chancel arch. The niches on the other side contain the comandments.

Best of all, and from about half a century later I shoud think, is the altar. It would not be out of place in an anglo-Catholic shrine like Kettlebaston. The panels are painted with ten Saints, two at each end and six on the front. They are, from the north, St Edmund, St Peter, St Barbara, the Blessed Virgin, St Bartholomew, St John, St Margaret, St Helen, St Swithin and St Apollonia.

This last-named Saint has always been one of my favourites. She holds a tooth in pincers; in some stories, this was the instrument of her martyrdom, while others have it that she pulled out all her own teeth in an attempt to efface her beauty and remain a virgin.


Whatever, she was that most vital of Saints in the medieval economy of grace, the guardian to whom intercessions might be made by sufferers of toothache.

St Edmund St Peter St Barbara Blessed Virgin StBartholomew
St John St Margaret St Helena St Swithin St Apollonia

The High Church altar is a curious counterpoint to the low church tin plate lettering behind it. The chancel itself retains evidence of its 14th century grandeur, with the springing of a great image niche, with some of its original colouring, and a beautiful piscina with two openings.

Roughly contemporary with the chancel must be the traceried font, and, on the north wall of the nave, the fragments of surviving wall paintings. There appears to be some intention of exposing and preserving these. On top of the familiar ochre of medieval paint there is the gothic lettering of the comforting words put over them by the Elizabethans.

The organ at the west end is by Father Willis, its narrow height matching that of the nave. All in all, this church is a delight, a rustic, devotional space that would be instantly recognisable to the 19th century blacksmith and ploughboy who once worshipped here.

  Father Willis organ and triffid

Simon Knott, March 2008

looking east looking west font
killing a dragon angel angels angel piscina
 King's Messengers the bread of life be thou faithful
wall painting grateful humbly window




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