At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Great Glemham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Great Glemham


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Great Glemham is a quiet, fair-sized and prosperous village which has the advantage over its non-identical twin, Little Glemham, of not being bisected by the A12. The church sits on a wide rise near the centre of the village, and although it has been heavily restored in just about every department in the last 150 years, it is still essentially a small 14th century church, with a slightly earlier chancel. You enter through the north porch, where there is a rather good holy water stoup, which may or may not have been there originally. All Saints is another church which belies the old saw that the north side of a graveyard was unconsecrated ground, since virtually all the burials here are on that side.

Your first sight on entering All Saints is its tremendous treasure. This is one of Suffolk's thirteen Seven Sacrament fonts, one of the best of its kind. There are fewer than forty of these fonts in the whole of the kingdom. Three of the Suffolk fonts have a unique feature, for at Denston, Woodbridge and here at Great Glemham the backgrounds are rayed. They probably did not come from the same workshop, since there are so many other differences between them. The fonts date from the last few decades of the 15th Century and the first few of the 16th Century, and show the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, reminder that our medieval parish churches were built as Catholic churches, not as Anglican ones. The Catholic sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Ordination, Confession, Last Rites and the Mass, or Eucharist. The fonts are eight-sided, each sacrament taking up a panel and the eighth panel featuring something else, most often the Baptism of Christ, but here at Great Glemham it is the Crucifixion.

The fascinating detail that this font shares with the one a few miles off at Badingham, and with a couple of the others, is that the holy oils used in Confirmation and Ordination are contained in a chrismatory, which is carried by an acolyte. In the Eucharist scene, a houseling cloth is held by the communicants to prevent the host being scattered. These give us an instant insight into liturgical practice in Suffolk churches at the end of the medieval period.

Great Glemham seven sacrament font font: lily in a pot font stem: lily crucifix seven sacrament font: last rites
seven sacrament font: Mass seven sacrament font: crucifixion seven sacrament font: ordination
seven sacrament font: matrimony seven sacrament font: baptism seven sacrament font: confirmation
Seven Sacrament font: Confession seven sacrament font: confession Seven Sacrament font: Last Rites

Great Glemham's font may not be as awesome as Westhall's, or as characterful as Badingham's, but in terms of condition it is probably the best single surviving example in all Suffolk. And the font has yet another remarkable feature. In one of the niches in the font's stem you will see, not a simple Marian lily as in the other three, but a lily crucifix. Only one other positively identified example survives in Suffolk, at Long Melford. There are remains of colour on the font, especially on the lilies. There is also colour on the contemporary decorative entrance to the rood loft stair, where the fleurons decorate the arch. What a beautiful place this must have been half a millennium ago! None of the rood apparatus survives at all, but with the images on the font and these traces of colour you might begin to get a hint, here, of the sheer drama of the medieval liturgy and life of this place.

The rest of the inside is homely, if not perhaps terribly exciting. There was a fairly rigorous sequence of 19th century restorations here. One of them was by J.P. St Aubyn, who did very little work in Suffolk, but he didn't leave examples of his unorthodox flair here, which on this occasion is probably just as well. He left in place the wooden chancel arch (itself restored by the great Henry Ringham a few years earlier) which is rather lovely. And it must be said that this church is dignified by some very good early 20th Century glass, the best of which is in the east window. It depicts the Risen Christ flanked by St Michael and St Gabriel by Powell & Son. Also up in the chancel, in the south and north windows are some interesting medieval survivals, fragments of the Instruments of the Passion and the Chalice and Host which are set in shields.

All in all, a pleasing place. Perhaps its domesticity means the church has less high drama than some of its neighbours, but it feels of a piece with its comfortable parish, and a fitting home to the precious jewel nestling here, a touchstone to the past.

Simon Knott, April 2019

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sanctuary altar sanctuary
cage fragments instruments of the passion (14th Century?) chalice and host (14th Century?)
St Michael by Powell & Sons St Gabriel by Powell & Sons Peace on Earth by Powell & Sons Hope Justice
died of wounds in Mesopotamia


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