At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Rickinghall Superior

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Rickinghall Superior

Rickinghall Superior Rickinghall Superior mason's mark?

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    The two Rickinghall churches are non-identical twins, half a mile apart. Down in the lower village, the medieval parish church of Rickinghall Inferior, also dedicated to St Mary, is feminine and gorgeous. The upper church of Rickinghall Superior is more masculine, and perhaps also rather more reserved. This arises partly because it is redundant, but also because of the way in which the Rickinghall bypass cuts it off from its community. And yet, despite the proximity of that busy Diss to Bury road, the graveyard I climbed up into from the adjacent lane was a lovely place, full of snowdrops on this bright day in February 2019.

Approaching from the east though, it would be hard to find this church attractive. The broad 15th century east nave wall with its chequerboard effect spreads bleakly beyond the narrow 14th century chancel. The Victorians are blamed for a lot, but here we see two medieval architectural periods which are simply not speaking to each other. The fine 15th century tower lifts its head imperiously, not wholly approving, I suspect.

But, like all Churches Conservation Trust churches, this one is maintained beautifully inside, and obviously well-loved by the locals. It is a supreme irony that churches which fall into disuse should be cared for so lovingly, even if, as seems increasingly to be the case with CCT churches, it is not open during the day, and you have to find a key.

On a buttress on the south-west corner of the tower there is a curious scratching, which I first took to be an Ordnance Survey triangulation marker, but on closer inspection wondered if it was actually intended as a square kind of scratch dial. Sam Mortlock thinks it is Suffolk's best example of a mason's mark, depicting a pair of compasses. The church is generally heavily buttressed, including substantial ones on the porch with its sacred monograms.

I did not see this church before it was made redundant. I mention this because you step into a spendidly rustic atmosphere; this is a big, clean, aisleless nave, with tiled and stoned floors and fairly primitive 19th Century benches which are entirely rural in feel. I wonder if it was like this before the CCT took it over, or did they remove carpets and more claustrophobic furnishings? The font is later than that of Rickinghall Inferior, but traceried in a similar way. It benefits from the wide open space at the west end of the nave, and in general there is a feeling of openness and size here in comparison with the church down in the village.

The Perpendicular feel is also quite different to that of Rickinghall Inferior.The height of the chancel makes it feel rather narrow, which it isn't really. The glass in the east window is outstandingly good, by the O'Connor brothers, and depicting Christ welcoming the children, and, best of all, the Presentation in the Temple. Two young girls carry the sacrificial doves and candle - could they have been based on village children?

One village boy certainly remembered here is in glass on the south side of the chancel. He was Samuel Speare, a former altar boy here. Encouraged by the Rector, he set off to become a missionary at the age of fifteen. While working on the island of Zanzibar in 1873, he fell ill, was brought home to England and died. He was just twenty years old. The glass shows him with his real face as the Biblical Samuel serving in the Temple of Shiloah, and woken by the voice of God in the house of Eli. Above his head fly four cherubs with what the CCT information board describes as 'the heads of African boys'.

Samuel Speare as Samuel in the Temple at Shiloah (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1874) Samuel Speare memorial window Samuel awoken by the voice of God in the house of Eli (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1874) Quatrefoil of cherubs 'with heads of African boys' (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1874)

In the north-east corner of the nave, the rood loft stairs open out fully ten feet above the nave floor, suggesting that the medieval rood made full use of the height of the chancel. The stone benches which run beneath the nave windows are also of interest, and a rare feature in an East Anglian church. They date from the time when corporate worship was just becoming the norm, a century or so before the Reformation. You can imagine villagers sitting there to listen to itinerant preachers expounding the Gospel. Up in the chancel there is a rather fine castellated piscina. There are two fragments of older glass, a medieval English lion and a continental bacchanalian cherub, probably 17th Century.

Although you'd fall for the exterior of the sister church first any day, the setting and interior here are so lovely that it seems a shame that Rickinghall Superior is no longer used for regular worship. The other large Perpendicular church which served the extended village of Rickinghall-cum-Botesdale, at Redgrave, has also now been declared redundant, which is also a shame.


Simon Knott, February 2019

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looking east looking west
sanctuary Rickinghall Roll of Honour font and tower arch font
Two acolytes bring two doves for sacrifice at the Presentation in the Temple (O'Connors, 1870s) Presentation in the Temple (O'Connors, 1870s) Of such is the Kingdom (O'Connors, 1870s) Nathaniel under the fig tree (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1870s) Christ and St Philip at Bethany (Heaton, Butler & Bayne, 1870s)
lion cornucopia

Rickinghall Superior snowdrops Rickinghall Superior snowdrops Rickinghall Superior snowdrops

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