At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Holton St Peter

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Holton St Peter

mythical beast   This parish is part of the lovely town of Halesworth, technically outside the boundary, but a kind of industrial suburb nonetheless. The name is to differentiate it from Holton St Mary, away in the south of the county, but in 19th Century directories the parish here is refered to simply as 'Holton'. Nowadays, it is home to the famous Bernard Matthews' turkey products factory, the biggest employer for miles.

The church is on the main road, but set well back from it, at the top of a sloping churchyard. St Peter sits there, looking beautiful.The round tower is in two stages, and one of Suffolk's tallest, giving the impression that this is a big church, which it isn't. It's a dear little building, and militantly open during the day. A sign on the door says 'Welcome to your church' - a lesson that would be usefully learned by a few other churches I can think of.

A modern statue of St Peter sits in the porch niche, and then there is a beautiful Norman inner doorway, probably the age of the lower half of the tower. Above it is a most curious Norman stone carving. It shows a mythical beast of some kind, apparently winged, and holding something in its mouth. I have heard it described as a winged bull, the evangelical symbol of St Luke. For others, it may be a dragon - and a dragon with a child in its mouth is the symbol of St Martha, which would be unique in East Anglia. But coming back to it having visited Santon Downham, I think this is intended as the same image as you find over the south doorway there - a wolf whose tail becomes a tree of life above its back, and not wings at all, and who is eating the leaves of another tree. A symbol of resurrection, perhaps?

Coming here in 2008 after almost ten years since my last visit, I had no memory at all of what I would find within, but immediately recognised the pleasant and sentimental Victorianised interior. There's a grand window by Kempe & Co depicting the Blessed Virgin and St Peter flanking Christ in Majesty, one of their lushest works in the county. The nineteenth century north aisle gives a sense of squareness. I remembered now that my last visit had been during Easter Week, and there had been a gorgeous scent of Easter lilies, suffusing the air and overpowering the mustiness of ancient buildings.

Looking up this Parish in White's 1844 Suffolk, I was pleased to discover that the Rector at the time was the splendidly named Reverend Worship. He must have been one of those who transformed St Peter into the church we see today.

  welcome to your church

Simon Knott, November 2008

looking east font looking west
south doorway Blessed Virgin and child banner war memorial
Blessed Virgin Christ in Majesty St Peter text me
Kempe & Co a shining light


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