Woolpit, Suffolk – St Mary the Virgin

Woolpit stands on the old road to Ipswich and has some lovely houses in the centre – just a shame there are always so many cars parked there. Nice post box too.

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St Mary the Virgin, Woolpit – TL975625 – is a beautiful church. There was probably a smaller, earlier church – Ulfcytel, commonly called Earl of the East Angles, gave the church and manor of Woolpit to the Shrine of St Edmund in 1005. Edward the Confessor confirmed the grant in 1042 and it remained in the hands of the Abbey until the dissolution in 1539. A more substantial church was built at the instigation of Abbot Baldwin, who died in 1087. The chapel of Our Lady of Woolpit was a popular place of pilgrimage during the medieval period – it is mentioned in a mandate issued by the Bishop of Norwich in 1211. In 1501 Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII, ordered that a pilgrimage there should be undertaken on her behalf. I like the idea of undertaking a pilgrimage on someone else’s behalf – that could be a good job. The shine was destroyed in 1538. Simon of Simon’s Suffolk Churches has done an excellent blog about this church. His text and photos are better than mine – in my defence, it was a grey horrible day.

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Let’s start with the tower. John Bacon of Hessett is reputed to have built circa 1513. In 1602 it was severely damaged by a thunderstorm and rebuilt. It was blown down in 1703 and rebuilt. It was struck by lightning in 1852 and rebuilt – at a cost of £1750. Look up and enjoy.

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The porch is exceptional. In 1430 John Brompton left 5 marks (£1.67) for the fabric of the porch. In 1439 John Turnour bequeathed 13s 4d, followed by John Weide in 1442 who left 2s. In 1451 John Stevunsson left 12s 4d, and in 1452 Margaret Koo bequeathed 6s 8d. In 1472 the finishing touches were being added when Robert Lytton left £20 for five images to be placed in the porch. Imagine it when all the niches were full of saints. The second storey could have been living our storage space. Look up when inside.

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Once inside, look up at the roof. The Nave is a C14 construction –  double hammer beam roof and clerestory. It was damaged at the Reformation and in the Civil War and renovated by the Victorians. Enjoy the pictures – though the light is not always in the best direction.

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I love the way the angels are picked up by the altar frontal. The Chancel and East Window are C14 – apparently one of the black columns at the side has beasts crawling round.

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The Screen is of C15 origin, but the gates are Jacobean (early C17). The beam across the top is part of the original Rood Loft. The figures were repainted in 1892 – note St Edmund.

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The pulpit was made in 1887 and was designed by George Gilbert Scott who later planned Liverpool Cathedral. At least, that’s what the guidebook says – but the GGS who designed Liverpool Cathedral was not born until 1880. As there were three GGSs it is easy to get confused. I missed the lectern, which was made for a chained bible.

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The pews are all late C15, apart from some which are Victorian replacements. The carved ends show a wonderful variety of animals. Once again, enjoy.

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I then went for a wander round the outside – and that was fascinating too. Woolpit is a lively place – Steam Rally this weekend and an annual Arts Festival.

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1 Response to Woolpit, Suffolk – St Mary the Virgin

  1. Helen Harrison says:

    What wonderful angels and animals. I never knew there were 3 GGSs – that explains a lot!!

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