At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Bartholomew, Finningham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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winged hourglass   Finningham is a busy village on the back road between Stowmarket and Rickinghall, and the tower of St Bartholomew is a familiar sight to travellers on the main line between Norwich and Ipswich. The church is pleasingly set away from the main road in a little maze of lanes. Unlike most churches around here, it is kept locked, but there are two keyholders available, and the one I went to opposite the north side of the church was very friendly and welcoming.

Two CSOs (Community Support Officers) in their yellow HVGs (High Visibility Garments) were doing the rounds of the churchyard as I approached the porch. I had seen them shortly before at Gislingham - "we're not following you, honestly!", one of them joked. I smiled. As I unlocked the padlock, I looked behind me, where a small sea of Clayton memorials, mainly from the 19th century, washed against the porch.

Everything is in proportion. This is a small church, an intimate one. There are no aisles or clerestory. The WWI memorial window is in the porch, and I let myself into a fairly dim space on this gloomy day, the red carpet and dark woodwork creating a sense of seriousness. The hand of the Victorians fell heavily here, but there are still some intriguing medieval survivals, more than you might expect. The best of these is the range of figures reset in the top lights of the east window. They are obviously the survivals of what was a much larger sequence, which may have come from elsewhere in the church, or from another church altogether. four of the six figures are Apostles, but the other two appear to depict St Edward the Confessor and a figure with a harp, which may have been an angel musician or possibly the Old Testament patriarch David, whose conventional symbol this is. Either way, this suggests that the surviving panels must once have been among twenty or more, with 12 Apostles and possibly a matching set of Patriarchs and Prophets, and perhaps other Saints.

St Jude and St Simon St James the Great and St James the Less harpist and St Edward the Confessor

The other medieval survival of great significance at Finningham is a set of three bench ends. One of them shows a figure in a tower, their head peeping out of the top. This may be part of a set of the Seven Works of Mercy, illustrating Christ's injunction to visit the prisoner. Several similar bench ends can be found in other East Anglian churches. Nearby, another fragmentary bench end may also depict a tower, but I couldn't help wondering if it was actually intended to be a pulpit. A third shows a seated angel holding a scroll. This may be intended to represent the Evangelist St Matthew, but there are several larger East Anglian churches where seated angels with scrolls accompany illustrations from the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Sacraments and the Seven Works of Mercy on adjacent benches. If this is the case, it may well be that the bench ends came from another, larger church originally.

A recent arrival in the church is the memorial to John Frere. Frere is an unsung hero of English science. Born just over the Norfolk border at Roydon, he was MP for Norwich, but was also a historian and an antiquary. He became interested in the ancient stone arrow heads which he uncovered near Hoxne, along with old bones which appeared to belong to completely unfamiliar animals. He wrote a paper for the Society of Antiquaries about his discovery of weapons of war, fabricated by a people who had not the use of metals... The situation in which these weapons were found may tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed, even beyond that of the present world...

This contradiction of a strictly Biblical view of human development was considered so radical that the Society suppressed it, and Frere's work did not come to light until the 1860s, by which time the likes of Anning, Wallace and Darwin had confirmed Frere's suspicions about the longevity of the human race and the likely origins of human species. As the Minnesota State University website quaintly puts it, Frere was the discoverer of England's Antiquity of Humans.

  John Frere

Simon Knott, February 2009



look east look west font chancel
angel with a scroll pulpit? woman in a tower war memorial




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