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Reformation, Hadleighs 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 Hadleighs
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
dont 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
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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