Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Thornham Parva, Suffolk

Last Wednesday I did a Suffolk run which took in Coddenham, Stoke Ash, Thornham Magna and Thornham Parva all of which are well out of my prescribed radius - but I particularly wanted to visit Thornham Parva and the others fitted in with the run home.

St Mary is a small thatched church with a square thatched tower and, whilst lovely, the exterior does not prepare you for the wonders inside. I'm not sure which took my breath away more, the wonderful Retable or the extraordinary wall paintings - does it matter I ask myself?

Essentially a Norman church this is a special place and was, until today, my favourite Suffolk church and then I visited Boxford.

ST MARY. Nave and chancel and short unbuttressed W tower. All thatched. S and N doorways Norman, that on the N completely plain, that on the S with one order of shafts, scalloped capitals, and one roll moulding. One Norman S window. The circular W window high up is attributed by Cautley to the Saxon period, because of its splay.* The chancel seems Dec; the nave also has one Dec window. - FONT. Octagonal, Dec, with simple tracery patterns. - (PULPIT. C17. The tester under the tower. LG) - ALTAR BACK. Jacobean panelling. - SCREEN. With simple one-light divisions. Two cut-off ends of the rood-loft beam remain in the wall. - WALL PAINTINGS. On the N and S walls, hardly recognizable. - PAINTING. The Thornham Parva Retable, discovered in 1927, is famous enough. It must date from c. 1300, and seems to be the work of the royal workshops, especially close to the Sedilia in Westminster Abbey. Crucifixion and eight saints, four l. in one row, and four r. The two outer ones are Dominicans. It is unknown for what church the retable was made. The figures are slim and swaying. The drapery folds have deep troughs across the waist and then fall diagonally. The background is treated in fine gesso patterns. The spandrels have various flowers and leaves in relief, also painted. - PLATE. Cup probably Elizabethan; Paten c. 1675; Flagon 1715; Almsdish 1825.

* Cf. indeed the many Saxon circular windows in Norfolk.

St Mary (4)

Retable (1)

Wallpainting (9) St Edmund's head being re-attached

Lord and Lady Henniker. There is a modern brass memorial with a portrait of Major General Henniker of the Coldstream Guards, who served in Egypt and South Africa, and is buried here.

A window to the fourth Lord Henniker has the disciples and soldiers at the Tomb; another lovely window to Major Albert Henniker was given by friends he met in South Australia. He died young in the first year of this century, and his window is a noblr tribute. Of exquisite colouring and design, it has three glorious figures of saints and angels above with trumpets, a remarkable inscription saying:

Through such souls alone, God, stooping, shows sufficient of His light  for us in the dark to rise by.

Elms border the narrow pathway to the miniature church of Thornham Parva, which is the real treasurehouse of this countryside, with something Saxon still left in its walls and a rare medieval painting. The little church will seat about 50 people and is kept in spotless order. Its curious little tower has a thatched roof`, and there are two Norman doors, a tiny Saxon window, and an old mass dial. A narrow stairway leads to a bow-fronted gallery. The beautiful modern oak pulpit and benches were a gift by Lord Henniker in memory of two aunts. The font is 13th century. Faint traces are still seen here and there of old paintings on the walls: a king wearing a crown, and a fragment of St Catherine’s wheel.

But the greatest treasure here, one which would be a proud possession even for a cathedral, is a 600-year-old painting, wonderfully preserved. The centre panel has the Crucifixion scene with the Madonna and St John, while under canopies at the sides are figures of eight Saints: Dominic, Catherine, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Edmund, Margaret, and Peter the Martyr. Known as the Thornham Parva Retable (a retable being a raised shelf or ledge behind an altar), it is recognised as one of the notable examples of 14th century work and has been up to London on exhibition.

Here we come upon two faithful servants of the Hennikers last century, and the inscription to them by the 4th Lord Henniker says, " Thine own friend and thy father’s friend forsake not "; and we found here a parish clerk in his 40th year of service whose father served the Hennikers for 70 years, probably a Suffolk record for long service.


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