|Decalogue, Royal Arms. Usually,
a Decalogue is a wooden board or boards
containing the Ten Commandments, The Apostles Creed, and
the Our Father. They were ordered to be displayed in all
parish churches shortly after the Reformation, supposedly
on the word of Elizabeth I herself. Placed at the east
end of the chancel where the altar had formerly
been, they were not only to show what were felt to be the
only true essentials of the Christian faith, but also of
the legal power of the state over the sacramental power of the church. They were sometimes
surmounted by the royal arms, although
this more commonly took the place of the former rood above the chancel arch.
Very few examples of this age survive, the most famous being those at Preston. Over the years, they were renewed and repainted; during the Commonwealth period, many sets of royal arms were destroyed, and the puritans also had a cautious eye on some of the words of the Apostles Creed. In practice, most surviving examples in Suffolk churches date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, at the time of an Evangelical revival. An absurd forgery of Henry VIII royal arms can be seen at Rushbrooke. Otherwise, the most unusual Royal Arms are to James II; these survive in Suffolk at Oulton, Little Blakenham and Weston.
The reordering of parish churches under the influence of the Oxford Movement in the second half of the 19th century effectively banished most decalogue boards. However, there is a fine modern set at Battisford.
|The royal arms were rehung, usually
above the south door, although they survive in their
original location at Little Finborough and Monks Eleigh.
The decalogue boards themselves were placed somewhere inconspicuous, usually high on the west wall, or in the space beneath the tower. In some places, they survive each side of the altar, where an Evangelical vicar would have no truck with Anglo-catholic practices. In other cases, they were simply destroyed; intriguingly, those at Westhorpe can be found among a pile of junk in the north-west corner of the nave, and I discovered one of the Bromeswell decalogue boards up in the belfry.
An unusual 18th century decalogue has been painted directly on to the north wall of the nave at Sweffling, apparently over an older set. That at nearby Chediston includes extraordinary images of Moses and Aaron, and is also on the north wall.