At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Gedding

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Gedding lancet Gedding

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          Gedding church is an attractive building, simple and homely. The various quiet accidents of history that attend any medieval church have conspired here to leave something lovely. The other church in this joint parish at Felsham is a grand work of the 14th and 15th Centuries, but just a mile or so away from it is this rugged little church, looking older than in fact it is. The moat around the churchyard may be no more than a drainage ditch but it is impressive nonetheless. The path up to it is lined with the solid, serious graves of former residents of the massive Gedding Hall, which you can see to the north-east of the churchyard. Today the rock star Bill Wyman lives there.

Beyond the moat the graveyard opens out, trim and bare. The flushwork on the buttresses of the truncated tower include a Marian monogram and what Mortlock says are the arms of the Chamberlin family. Simon Cotton found a bequest for the reparation of the tower in 1470, so perhaps this was as far as they got before the Reformation intervened. The current short red brick bell stage above is later, and the way that the stair turret was truncated suggests that it was never intended to go higher. A 19th Century plan to rebuild the tower was never carried out. Beside the porchless south door is a pretty Norman lancet decorated with chevrons. It was unearthed during EF Bishopp's restoration. The door is a little stiff but usually unlocked, and you step down into a sweet little interior.

The pairs of wide and narrow lancet windows each side of the nave confirm that this is a Norman church, but the most striking view is to the east where two open arches flank the narrow chancel arch. They were probably intended to accentuate the importance of the nave altars which stood below them as at Chevington. The one to the north has some square recesses beneath it, which were perhaps reliquaries for the altar on that side. But if so then why none on the south side? And why none surviving for nave altars in other Suffolk churches?

The openings were restored and elaborated by Bishopp, particularly on the east side, but beyond them the small chancel is restrained, with an open, light east window with a panel which is the church's only coloured glass. It depicts a crowned Blessed Virgin and Christchild. Bishopp rebuilt the floor up so that the 15th Century piscina is now only a few inches above the glazed tiles, a reminder that raised chancels were a Laudian idea, not a medieval one. The low side window angles back through the thick walls towards the former rood.

At the west end of the church the 15th Century font is panelled with blank shields which were perhaps at one time painted. The smaller object beside it appears to be a holy water stoup, perhaps from the south doorway. Above, a face looks down from the arch springing of the former tower, and there is another one on the south side. A few of the benches towards the back here are medieval, and although they are in poor condition you can see that they are probably part of the same set as a pair up the road at Drinkstone. Perhaps they were even once in the same church.

This is a pleasing space, uncluttered and peaceful. I have visited here several times, sometimes experiencing it as lost and lonely, on another occasion finding it full of life and hosting an art exhibition. The churchwarden I spoke to on that occasion said that he tries to ensure that St Mary is kept open, and would welcome with open arms any visitor who wanted it unlocked. He also went into great detail about the time the BBC had televised their Sunday morning service from this church, which, as it turned out, had been in the early 1960s. But perhaps not a lot happens in Gedding.

Simon Knott, September 2020

looking east looking west
east window Crowned Blessed Virgin and Child (Morris & Co?) font
sanctuary Gedding Hall from the churchyard font and stoup

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