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 Rickinghall Superior Rickinghall Superior
Rickinghall Superior Rickinghall Superior Rickinghall Superior mason's mark?

two doves and a candle   The two Rickinghalls are non-identical twins, half a mile apart. Down in the middle of this large village, the church of the medieval parish of Rickinghall Inferior  is feminine and gorgeous. That of former Rickinghall Superior is more masculine, and rather reserved. This arises partly because it is redundant, but also because of the way in which the Rickinghall bypass thoughtlessly cuts it off from its community. Despite the proximity of the busy Diss to Bury road, the graveyard is a lovely place.

Approaching from the east, it would be hard to find this church attractive. The broad 15th century east nave wall spreads bleakly around 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.

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, aisless 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 openess 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 and died: he was just twenty years old. The glass shows him both swinging a thurible and on his death bed.

There are two fragments of older glass, a medieval lion and a continental bacchanalian cherub, probably 17th Century. The chancel has a fine castellated piscina. I hesitate to mention the splendid rood loft stairs, which are in excellent condition and open out fully ten feet above the nave floor, just in case the Health and Safety fascists get to hear of them, but 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.

Although you'd fall for the exterior of the sister church first any day, the setting and interior are so lovely that it seems a shame that they are 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 bit sad.

  Presentation in the Temple

Simon Knott, November 2008

looking west sanctuary chancel looking west
called medieval lion cornucopia thurifer
Presentation in the Temple Presentation in the Temple thurifer called
Suffer the Children font piscina Samuel Speare
font at Zanzibar blameless memory

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