Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Sudbury, Suffolk part 3

I visited St Gregory in August but a service was under way so I only did externals. The beautiful exterior did not prepare me for the three wonders of this church.

The first, and most impressive, are the bench ends and misericords of the chancel stalls - without doubt some of the finest I've seen - but running them close are the font (or more correctly the font cover) and the original rood screen panel depicting Master John Schorn.

Even without these three this would still be an impressive church with much to see and admire - I'm rather surprised that Simon Jenkins, rather begrudgingly to my mind, only awards it one star.

ST GREGORY. The mother church of Sudbury. By the Green at the W end of the town, the third of its medieval parishes. Perp, built of flint. W tower with diagonal buttresses with five set-offs. SE stair—turret. At its foot on the S side MONUMENT. Tomb-chest with shields in lozenges and recessed niche above. Nave and aisles, clerestory, not with doubled windows. S porch with a chapel attached to its E side (cf. Clare Suffolk and St Botolph Cambridge). Tall transomed chancel windows. Brick vestry to the N of the E end, early C16. C14 arcades of four bays. Polygonal attachments to the piers towards nave and aisle without capitals, semicircular shafts with capitals towards the arch openings. The capitals on the S side simpler and earlier, on the N finer. The church is supposed to have been rebuilt by Archbishop Sudbury, who founded a college here in 1375 (see below) and was executed in 1381, and to have been remodelled c. 1485. Nice cambered nave roof, the E bays ceiled, flat chancel ceiling, painted with a pattern of squares and elongated hexagons, more Renaissance than Gothic in character. - FONT. Perp, octagonal. Bowl shallow with tracery motifs, probably late C14. - FONT COVER. One of the finest medieval font covers in the country. Tall, with two tiers of panels with ogee arches and gables, the upper tier placed so that its panels stand above the edges of the panels below. - SCREEN. One panel, at the W end of the nave, with a painting of Master John Schorn healing the gout by conjuring a devil out of a boot. - STALLS. Heads on the arms, MISERICORDS with heads etc. More panels of the screen dado used for the stall backs. - SOUTH DOOR. With tracery and a trail border. - MONUMENT. Incised slab with Normano-French inscription to the wife of the Sieur de St Quentin, c. 1325. Foreign, according to Mr Greenhill (S chapel floor). - CURIOSA. The skull of Archbishop Sudbury is preserved in the vestry.

Benchend (1)

Benchend (3)

Misericord (6)

John Schorn (1)

The mother church of the town is St Gregory’s (built by Simon of Sudbury), standing at a quiet corner with a medieval porch and a lofty tower. It has stood as we see it since the 15th century, but has a relic of its earlier days in a stone to a wool merchant’s wife who lived here in 1275. The lovely old door of the porch opens into a great white church, elegant and lofty, and with fine old roofs. On each side of the high chancel arch is a delightful figure of a curly-haired girl carved in stone, and seen through the arch the blue chancel roof is charming, painted with spiral bands and gold stars and angels on the cornice.

The chancel has 20 fine choir stalls with medieval carvings under the seats, and figures on the armrests. In two facing windows are three of our patron saints and three figures of the church (Augustine, Bede, and Gregory). Across the chancel still stand the lower panels the old rood screen, painted with saints last century, and close by them is a charming pulpit of our own time, daintily shaped like a wine glass.

The treasure of the church is the ancient cover of its modern font, one of only three covers of its kind. A richly traceried piece of craftsmanship of the 15th century, 12 feet high, its gorgeous tabernacle work is gay with its original red and gold, and it has in its diminishing stages traceried windows with pinnacled canopies. What is exceptional about the cover is that the lower part pushes ingeniously telescopewise.

Hanging by the tower arch is a painted wooden panel of the medieval knight of whom it is said that he conjured the devil into a boot; in case we should doubt it the great boot is here to see, and the owner stands with his hand raised in rebuke to the devil sitting inside. The knight, who is wearing a red gown with a black hat over his bobbed hair, is Sir John Schorne, a Buckinghamshire rector of long ago, who appears with his boot on several English screens.

In a small medieval chapel is a massive altar tomb with a mysterious inscription which is an epitaph’s way of saying that a rich man has gone to heaven; it is to Thomas Carter who died in 1706:

Traveller, I will relate a wondrous thing. On the day on which
Thomas Carter breathed his last a Sudbury camel passed through
the eye of a needle; if thou hast wealth, go and do likewise.

There is outside the porch another altar tomb which has lost its brass; it is close to the great gateway which leads from the church to the workhouse - for so low are the mighty fallen in Sudbury that Simon of Sudbury’s college has now become the home of the poor.

Simon was Sudbury’s great Archbishop of Canterbury in the 14th century and there he lies, but his old town has a grim relic of its greatest son. He looks down from a boss in the roof of an aisle and a big stone in the floor at the east end marks the grave of his father and mother. But in a niche in the vestry is a little box behind an iron door in which is the head of Simon, cut off by Wat Tyler’s followers on Tower Hill and set over London Bridge, where it remained six days. It may now be seen, a grim sight reminding us of the head of Cromwell which we found also in this county. It was perhaps some satisfaction to the people of this town that the last of Wat Tyler’s rebels was killed or captured in this market-place in the year when the rebels slew this good old man*.


* Some take a rather different view, including Wat Tyler's supporters, as he was the instigator of the original Poll Tax.

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