Saturday, 18 May 2013

Whepstead, Suffolk

St Petronilla left so little an impression, apart from the fact that, unusually for these parts, it was locked, that I failed to create an entry after I'd visited. Cement rendered, an ugly squat tower but a nice site and churchyard - I don't think I missed much.

ST PETRONILLA. A rare dedication. Fragmentary W tower with three niches round the W window. Nave and chancel c. 1300 (intersected and Y-tracery). But inside, the imposts of the chancel arch with nook-shafts are Norman. Otherwise only to be noted how the rood-stair climbs up in the window recess (cf. Wingfield). - PULPIT. Made up of Elizabethan panels, including some marquetry work. - STAINED GLASS. Fragment in a chancel S window. - PLATE. Silver-gilt Paten 1725; silver-gilt Cup, said to be Parisian, c. 1810.

St Petronilla (2)

WHEPSTEAD. Here are cottages with green lawns, a big pond, and a leafy lane bringing us to an ancient church in the trees, by a splendid farmhouse. The spire on the 15th century tower was blown down in the great storm which swept over England the night before Cromwell died, but the man and woman over the doorway of the porch have kept their vigil for 600 years. Some of the stones in the walls are Saxon, but the Normans remade the church, and there are Norman stones in the doorway of the narrow spiral stairs leading to the gallery in the tower. The nave and chancel are mostly 13th century; the chancel arch has been rebuilt in Norman style. Near the altar is the stone of a 14th century priest. The pulpit has old carved panels. By the roodloft stairs is a window with beautiful old heraldic glass, and there are other ancient fragments, with two tiny heads of priests, in the chancel. A window to a rector of our own day shows St Petronilla in green and red with St Peter in blue, and there is a fine blue window in the tower.

This is the only church in England to St Petronilla, and there may never be another. At the time of the dedication she was believed to be the daughter of St Peter, but in 1873 her sarcophagus was found under a half-buried church in Rome, with an inscription showing that she was the daughter of a Roman noble. She suffered martyrdom with two of her servants, to one of whom, Nereus, Paul sends salutations in his Epistle to the Romans. Petronilla now sleeps in St Peter’s in Rome.

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