At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Joseph, Hadleigh

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


Hover to read captions, click to see enlarged images:

The darkness climbs to the cupola.

Detail of a station of the cross.

The sanctuary. Note the statues on the retable.


Before the Reformation, Hadleigh’s Catholic Priests ministered in the vast and beautiful church of St Mary in the town centre. But that is in the care of the Church of England these days, of course, so now you have to walk out into Hadleigh’s anonymous suburbs if you do not want to miss Mass.
St Joseph sits, appropriately enough, on Angel Street, on a peninsular site among the terraced houses. Now, I am a big fan of modernist architecture, and of churches that don’t try to play it safe by fitting in. Nevertheless, I think St Joseph is an ugly building, wholly out of character with the streets around it. Externally, it is not a brave building, or a particularly interesting one.
Having said all that, I hope you are still reading, because this is a church that you really must come and see. Inside this shell is one of the most beautiful modern church interiors in the whole of Suffolk.
At one time, the west doors led you into a conventional worship space, with an ornate altar up at the holy end. Like so many Catholic churches in Suffolk, it was built on the eve of the liturgical changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council, and thus presented its parish with the challenge of adapting a purpose-built arrangement to the new priorities.
They have done this in an intriguing and imaginative way that is more than satisfactory. Firstly, a screen has been installed halfway along, and the area of the building to the west of it has been converted into a hall. Beyond the screen, the church has been reoriented, so that the altar now stands to the south.
You step into an area that is full of light, despite the lack of windows. This is because of the wonderful roof, a crown that builds to a glass cupola. Beneath, the floor is carpeted, and simple modern benches are arranged in a semi-circle about the sanctuary.
The sanctuary itself is both simple and beautiful, at once modern and traditional. Six tall candlesticks sit on the retable. To the east, an alcove accommodates a beautiful image of Mary and her baby. To the east is a wonderful life-size carving that looks as if it was done originally for an external wall. I wonder where it came from. Other statues in the church were brought here from the parish outstations at
Nayland and Withermarsh Green, and statues from the original church, more appropriate to a traditional setting,  sent there instead.
The carved stations are also simple and beautiful, cleverly fixed to the screen to enhance the illusion of a solid wall. Everything is done with an eye to detail, and the overall effect is of a building that is prayerful and proper. Few modern churches can inspire a sense of awe. This one does.
As is usual in Catholic churches, most of the work here has been done by the parishioners themselves, under the guidance of a series of energetic Parish Priests. This is a lively, welcoming community, that continues to grow, as it does at
Nayland and Withermarsh Green; meanwhile, only a handful now turn out in the town centre glory that was once theirs.

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