At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Monewden

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Monewden

Monewden Monewden 
Monewden south porch west door south porch

   
   
daisies   It was a bright afternoon towards the end of May 2008, and I was cycling through the lattice of narrow, winding lanes south of Framlingham. The wind was freshening, and there would be rain before nightfall, but for now the hot sun lit up the gentle hills, and the air was full of birdsong and the smell of rape flowers. Monewden is at the heart of this remote area. It is a scattered parish, and it would be hard to say that you were ever really in the middle of the village. But I love this area. There is so little traffic that cycling is always a pleasure, and all the churches are open. The beautiful weather only enhanced my mood as I rolled to a stop outside St Mary.

Eight years ago, when I first wrote about this church, I said that this was one of the most peaceful graveyards I had yet visited, and 1,500 churches later I saw no reason to change my opinion. The church sits on a ridge, and the graveyard is like a velvet cushion set among the fields, tight enough to be secretive, rambling enough to make exploring it an excitement.

Ivy crawls up the west doorway, filling the arch. I suppose that it will have to be removed eventually, but for now it is simply beautiful, like a metaphor for the passage of time, as if this was Sleeping Beauty's castle, and a centuries-long slumber had fallen like snow on the heart of Suffolk.

Monewden church is small and trim, but certainly not run of the mill. The tower, nave and chancel are all basically 14th century, although there are some hints of an earlier church. The beautiful red brick porch was built right on the eve of the Reformation, and its niches would hardly be used at all, before the images in them were taken out and destroyed by the Anglican reformers of the 1540s. Like many smaller East Anglian churches, St Mary suffered neglect in the centuries afterwards, and it was not until 1906 that it was taken to task and properly restored to the state you see it in today. Because of this it has a special atmosphere, at once intensely rustic, but also with that flavour of Anglo-catholic triumphalism which was reaching a peak in the first decade of the 20th century. The Anglo-catholic tide has receded, and there is no evidence that it was ever a strong current here, but still it has left its mark. In 1906, the enthusiasm for ritualism in the Church of England was at its height, and the church was refurbished with this in mind, that the building had a sacramentalist purpose. The focus eastwards was enhanced here by one of the few wooden chancel arches in Suffolk. It is at once simple and elegant, and draws the eye towards an excellent window of the Crucifixion, installed here after the First World War as a memorial. I wonder who the artist was?

crucifixion Crucifixion: Blessed Virgin Crucifixion: Christ Crucifixion: St John Crucifixion (detail

High up in the tracery of the east window, there is a medieval shield, which Sam Mortlock says is that of the Black Prince. I wonder how it came to be here? The other glass in the south and north windows consists of the coloured, frosted lozenges that were popular at the start of the 20th Century. Normally I don't like these, but here these seem to create a calm intimacy that is much in keeping. The window splay on the north side is deep, and the rood loft stairway climbs up from it. I think that it is lovely. It was as if all the turbulent history of the English Church had conspired to leave something so beautiful.

When this church was newly restored, the young men of the village went off to the killing fields of France, and some of them never came back. There are six names on the war memorial, which must have made a significant impact on a parish where the population was never more than a couple of hundred. Opposite the memorial is the cross which marked the original grave of Sergent Cyril H Tarrant, 12th Bn - The Suffolk Regt.

Cyril Harold Tarrant died in Flanders on the 29th of July 1918, and his body now lies in the Tournai communal cemetery in Belgium, not far from the French border. He was just 23 years old when he died. Near to his cross there is a rather more elaborate memorial to Geoffrey Charles Martin. At the age of just nineteen, he was killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. His body was never found: he is one of nearly 80,000 lost boys remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. Geoffrey Martin lies at peace, somewhere under fields which are now as quiet as those which roll and stretch across the parish he set out from, and to which he never returned.

  cano est
   

Simon Knott, June 2008

looking east altar Killed in France
looking east font and tower arch chancel window splay and rood stair
the young Christ window splay war memorial Sergent Cyril H Tarrant Black Prince

memory memory Elizabeth Martha

 

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