I had the time before a concert on Friday to pop into this sublime building. It is quite simply breathtaking. The Victorians have had their inevitable say in the renovation in the 19th century, but the whole atmosphere and feel of the interior remains remarkably unspoilt. The first part of the church to capture my attention is the children’s school pews at the back, complete with peg hooks. It is like nothing I have seen before in a church, and reminds one that churches always were hubs of community, not merely a ceremonial building used for Sunday Mass. A Minstrel’s Gallery lies between these two sets of pews, that were designed to segregate children by gender. The Master’s seat looks ominously on. One doubts that the lessons were that dynamic.
The church is lit by some bizarre skylights that would be at home in a barn. These are a product of the 19th century but are effective and not too clumsy. They’ve also been beautifully restored. The whole interior, in fact, is tasteful and has not been tampered with or spoilt, as have some famous churches in Suffolk (Framlingham comes to mind). The Barnardiston pew and tombs are untouched, and remind one of Dennington nearer the coast. It is gloriously cluttered. The font lurks awkwardly near a pillar on the north side. Betjeman may have called this a ‘village Westminster Abbey’; it comes with the added delight of a complete lack of insensitive tourists, no entry fee and a feeling of proximity to the past that the Abbey cannot achieve nowadays. It is a well-worn space, and is approachable because of that.
The village is also delightful. The church seems a hub of the place still. It lies near a brook with a charming meadow path near an old watermill. Pub, shop, new building lie next to 18th century cottages. Beautiful but not affected. This one is a must-see.