Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk p1

Choosing a beautifully clear, but bitterly cold - below freezing all day - Friday I went to Bury St Edmunds, which is well outside my self imposed distance limit but there are two churches and an Abbey that I have wanted to visit for ages.

I went to school just outside Bury but had, in the intervening years, forgotten how beautiful the town is. I started the day with St Mary which is absolutely stuffed with interest - this resulted in 238 photos!

St Mary claims to be the third largest parish church in England, to have the second longest aisle and the largest west window. It is part of the Benedictine Abbey site in the Historic Core in Bury St Edmunds. It is renowned for its magnificent hammer-beam Angel roof, and is the final resting place of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, Duchess of Suffolk and favourite sister of Henry VIII. Mary's tomb, along with over a hundred more tombs and monuments, the angels and a wealth of 15th century woodcarving and outstanding examples of stained glass are all magnificent. This is a church to relish and enjoy.

ST MARY.* 213 ft long. The tower stands on the N side, a little E of the W front. It is broad and sturdy, C14 in its lower part (bequest ‘if it shall be built’ 1393). Earlier C14 the simple N doorway of the church, and Dec the chancel, see the chancel arch. The church itself was built about 1430 (bequests 1425, 1430, 1432, for the rood-loft 1436, for the battlements 1442-5, for the porches 1437), and the chancel chapels were added by Jankyn Smith who died in 1481. The facade is similar to that of St James: stone-facing, embattled aisles, gabled nave. The windows are also transomed though only of four and five lights, and there are niches l. and r. of the doorway. Impressive S side with all windows identical from W to E: all of three lights with transom and under two-centred arches. The former S porch was pulled down in 1731. The clerestory has twice as many windows as the aisles. At its E end rise two rood-stair turrets with little crocketed spires and finials. The S aisle is stone-faced, the S chapel is not. On the N side the rhythm is less uniform. Here only the chancel chapel has windows with two-centred arches, the aisle windows have four-centred heads. Also there is an early C14 doorway, finely moulded, and there is the Porch bequeathed by the Will of John Nottyngham in 1437 and commemorating him and his wife. It is placed unusually far E, connected with the position of the church in the abbey precinct. The porch is stone-faced, has pinnacles, a gable with crockets, and three niches above the entrance. Inside it has a charming stone ceiling panelled with a wheel of blank arches the hub of which is an openwork pendant. The chancel projects one bay beyond the chapels. It has a late and bold E window. The interior is very impressive. Ten bays to the chancel arch. The piers have shafts to the nave, thin triple shafts with capitals to the arch openings, and broad hollows in the diagonals. The nave shafts rise to the roof, but branch off into roll hood-moulds over the arches. Also a shaft rises to the roof from the apex of each arch. The roof is rightly famous. The principals are supported in an alternating rhythm by hammerbeams with large angel figures against them and arched braces. The latter have 'embryo hammerbeams, not projecting beyond the braces but clamping them and disguised as carved grotesques' (Cautley). The spandrels of the braces are carved with dragons, unicorns, birds, fishes, etc. The collar-beams carry dainty arches with tracery. The wall-plate has demi-figures of angels. The wall-posts stand on corbels with angels, saints, martyrs, prophets, and kings. At the E end of the nave is a window above the chancel arch. This was inserted as part of Cottingham’s restoration of 1840. The chancel chapels are of three bays. Their piers are slenderer and simpler, but of the same type as in the nave. The chancel roof is a single-framed, straight-braced rafter roof, panelled. The panels are cusped and have bosses. Amongst the scenes on the bosses a fox preaching to chickens, a dog carrying two water-bottles, two dogs fighting.

FURNISHINGS. FONT. Octagonal, Perp, the base with four seated lions and four small standing figures. The bowl seems altered. - STALLS. On the S side. Poppy-heads, animals on the arms, traceried backs. - STAINED GLASS. W window by Heaton & Butler, 1859; S aisle E window by Gerente, 1856; N aisle E window by Heaton & Butler; window over the chancel arch by Willement, c. 1845; window above the S doorway by Clutterbuck, 1854; N aisle W by Ward & Hughes, 1868; first from W by H. Hughes, 1869; N aisle Transfiguration by Ward & Hughes, 1884. - PLATE. Cups 1661 and 1674; Flagon 1683; Flagon 1716; Paten 1745; two Alms dishes 1777. - MONUMENTS. Sir William Carew d. 1501. Big tomb-chest with shields in richly cusped quatrefoils. Two recumbent effigies (chancel N). - Sir Robert Drury d. 1536 (chancel S), almost a copy of the previous. - Jankyn Smith d. 1481 who built the chancel aisles and is supposed to have given the town the Guildhall. Brass, two kneeling figures, 2 ft long (S chancel chapel). - John Baret d. 1467 (S aisle E end). Tomb-chest with small shields in lozenge and quatrefoil fields. On it cadaver with this inscription:

He that wil sadly beholde one with his ie
May se hys owyn merowr and lerne for to die.


Other inscriptions about the tomb. Especially noteworthy the one on the pedestal (copied here from Tymms):

Wrappid in a selure as a ful rewli wrecche
No mor of al myn good to me ward wil strecche
From erthe I kam and on to erthe i am browht
This is my natur, for of erthe I was wrowht;
Thus erthe on to erthe to gedir now is knet
So endeth each creature Q’d Iohn Baret
Qwerfor ze pepil in weye of charite
Wt zor good payeris I prey zu help me
For lych as I am right so schal ze all be
Now God on my sowle have m’cy & pite. Amen.


Above the monument, which must have stood in a large chantry area, the aisle roof is panelled and has his motto ‘Grace me governe ’ and the Lancastrian SS painted on. - Mary Tudor d. 1533 (chancel N side), second daughter of Henry VIII, married to King Louis XII of France, and after his death (first secretly) to Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk. - Brass to Archdeacon John Fyners d. 1509 (N chapel).

* Trial excavations in 1958 revealed the W wall of the BASILICA OF ST DENIS built c. 1080 and demolished c. 1140 to make way for the W front. The basilica was replaced by the parish church of St James (now the cathedral). 

St Mary (1)

Nave (1)

John Baret 1467 (3)

Poppyhead (4)

Lectern (2.1)

Mee dedicates seven pages on the town so I'm extracting the relevant bits to save on space - however given the length of his entry for St Mary it wont save much.

The great church of St Mary has been continuous on this acre of mother earth for 1300 years. The first church was built on the site about 633 and destroyed by the Danes; the second was built in 903 to receive the body of St Edmund, who was killed by the Danes; the third church replaced the wooden one with stone in 1032, but as the abbey church grew the site of St Mary’s was required for a new wing of the great St Edmund’s Church, and the fourth church was built on the other side of the churchyard (the present site) in 1135. It was pulled down in 1425, and the fifth St Mary’s has been used without a break since 1433.

It is 70 yards long with a splendid clerestoried nave of 10 bays under one of the most magnificent medieval roofs, angels and scores of saints looking down from the hammerbeams. At the east end above the chancel screen is a richly painted beam and two fine angels looking down in red, white, blue, and gold. The medieval chancel roof is richly carved and painted with animals and musical angels, and the carved cornice is painted with angels holding scrolls, containing parts of the Te Deum. At one corner of the south aisle is a little piece of the roof as it has been for 500 years; it covers the chantry of John Baret who lies below it, a wasted figure in a shroud on a strange altar tomb.

There are two staircases to the roodloft, the top and bottom doors on each side of the chancel arch carved with delicate tracery, and it is odd that the doors on one side are bigger than the others, a little fancy which means that the man who read the Gospel went one way and the man who read the Epistles went the other, and the bigger door is to indicate the Greater Glory of the Gospel. We found much fine woodwork being done for the Suffolk Regiment, whose church this is; the roodscreen with its elegant canopy, in memory of all officers who die on active service, is fine, and the organ, one of the best in England, was being raised when we called. The medieval choir-stalls have handsome poppyheads and heraldic animals on the arm-rests, among them a stag sitting on its haunches with a shield hanging from its jewelled collar, a sphinx, and a queer creature with a collar and a chain. The font is also medieval, with lions and men round the base.

One of the most famous corners of St Mary’s Church is the Notyngham porch, built by a grocer of that name 500 years ago. Very striking it is outside, with crowned lions and grotesque men, but it is its ceiling which attracts all travellers, especially the pendant hanging from the middle, which we must stand backwards at a difficult angle to see; it shows angels attending the Almighty.

The windows have about 800 figures in them. The east window has the four Archangels, the west is a thankoffering for an abundant harvest in 1934, one of the biggest windows in any parish church. It has a lovely central figure of Our Lord with the Disciples, and scenes of Gethsemane and the Road to Calvary. In another notable window, with about 70 figures in it, are scenes from a pathetic royal story. The window was given by a queen of England in memory of a queen of France - it is Queen Victoria’s tribute to Henry the Eighth’s sister Mary, who lies in a grave by the altar here.

She was a beautiful girl of eighteen when it suited her only brother, Henry the Eighth, to marry her to King Louis the Twelfth of France, who had six months before lost his queen. The princess crossed the Channel with 400 barons and knights, 200 gentlemen, and 80 ladies, and on reaching the French coast her ship ran aground, and the bride was carried ashore in a man’s arms. It is a sad little tale, for she was married on October 9, crowned on November 5, and widowed on New Year’s Day. Then she came back and married her old love Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and her rapacious brother was so enraged that he made Brandon pay the cost of the French marriage and continual sums beside.

One of their daughters became the mother of Lady Jane Grey. The king showed his sister much kindness in the end, and she took part in the dazzling pageantry of the Field of the Cloth of Gold; but she scorned Anne Boleyn, and came into disfavour again, and finally came to live at Westhorpe Hall in Suffolk, where she died in 1533. She was buried in the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, and when the monastery was dissolved her coffin was brought to St Mary’s. About 250 years after her death the coffin was opened and Horace Walpole took a lock of her hair. We remember that 250 years after one queen’s death Pepys stooped down by her open coffin in Westminster Abbey and kissed her; she was Henry the Fifth’s Katharine.

It occurred to Queen Victoria to put up this window to the Queen of France and the marble stone round the tomb was given by Edward the Seventh. The window has scenes of the marriage in France, her widowhood, her meeting with her brother, and her burial in the abbey; we see her also carried in a sedan chair. On the stone above her grave are five crosses.

By the altar also lies Sir William Carew and his wife, who knew this church in the 15th century, and on an altar tomb facing them lies Sir Robert Drury, Speaker in the time of Henry the Seventh. His wife is with him and has a bag and a girdle. Hanging in the lady chapel are two helmets of Sir Robert.

Among a small but very interesting group of brasses is one to George Estye of Shakespeare’s day; it has a candlestick in one corner. Another brass has been twice used, once for Eleanor Wynn in 1400 and once for William Fairclyffe in 1600. The brass portraits of Jankyn Smyth and his wife show them kneeling with raised hands, she in a butterfly headdress, and it is said that a sermon they endowed to be preached every Thursday after Plough Monday has been preached since 1481, the oldest endowed sermon in England. There is a lovely brass of Archdeacon Fyners of 1509, and an engraved brass tablet to Peter Gedge, who printed the first newspaper in this town in the days of Napoleon. We read of him that:

Like a worn-out type he is returned to the founder, in hope of being recast in a better and more perfect mould.

Somewhere about St Mary’s lies George Kirbye, one of the best English writers of madrigals in the days of Merrie England. He published 24 of them, calling them the first fruits of his poor knowledge in music. There are three tributes here to men of the Suffolk Regiment. One is to the fifty men who went down with the Birkenhead, standing at attention; another is to 153 men who fell in South Africa; and the third is the roll of honour for the Great War, which has over seven thousand names.

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