Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Another tour of 'Suffolkian' churches

When I was at liberty before term started again in January, I spent a few days in Ipswich, and took the opportunity to visit a few of the parishes that I had missed out on during my last visit. This post is about history, so don't continue reading if that will bore you!

The Chancel of St Mary of the Assumption.
The Anglo-Catholic high altar and sacra-
ment house, juxtaposed with the vibrant,
yet stark clear east window. Some of the
windows are Ninian Comper; this one isn't.
The very reverend dean of Ipswich suggested a visit to the Anglican parish of St Mary of the Assumption in the village of Ufford, just north-east of Woodbridge, for its antiquarian novelties.

I often enjoy visiting ancient parish churches. Many of them have been damaged irrevocably over the centuries, though there are a few exceptions, and, of course, the Catholic revival in the Anglican church from the nineteenth-century sought to restore (well, restore is a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps!) something that was lost during the various protestant reformations.

There is an Anglican parish church in my own parish which has largely survived - the rood and ceiling are still intact, peculiarly so for the heart of Cromwell country - and I was reminded of this familiar church when I walked into the Assumption, though, clearly, the present pastor is a little higher than most!

The six-metre high baptismal font cover.
The structure is fifteenth-century, but the
features are a more modern introduction.

The pelican soars into the clerestory.
Many of the features are original, from the ceiling to the ornate (recent) baptismal font and 15th century cover, which extends almost the entire height of the interior structure. There are many such font covers in the east of England, but this must surely be the largest, surmounted, as it is, by the pelican in her piety. Many of the intricate decorations, however, were added in the last century.

As well as the font cover, part of the original rood screen survives. The rood itself is long-gone, but it's beam is still situated between the nave and the chancel, as does the dado-screen. That, however, still has some faint remains of the original paintings of various saints. Many such examples are extant in Suffolk and Norfolk, as explained by Eamon Duffy in his book, Stripping of the Altars, a must have for any Oscotian. In fact, plate 67 in the second edition is a picture of a carved pew-end from this church, another fifteenth-century survivor.

St Thomas of Canterbury, Woodbridge.
Much altered in the past, but is in the long
process of being restored. One of the finest
churches in the diocese, then, I am biased;
I understand my mother was baptised here.
Moving from the fifteenth to the nineteenth, I next visited the Catholic parish church of St Thomas of Canterbury in Woodbridge. I thought this church would be older than the gothic-revival movement, but it only appeared on the scene in 1850. Needless to say the influence of Pugin hadn't reached East Anglia by then! Neo-classical is, I think, one of my favourite architectural expressions, even though Pugin - an artist I admire deeply for his conviction, piety and unparalleled sense of taste and proportion - didn't think much of it. There aren't many examples in the entire country of this architectural style in the construction of Catholic churches; the other notable example in our diocese being St Edmund in Bury St Edmunds (incidentally, St Francis Xavier in Hereford is a copy of our own St Edmunds, and is a fine example of right-worship in a neo-classical setting). I was pleased to see that 'altare privilegiatum' still hangs underneath the baldacchino in St Thomas's. When this statement appears, it means that masses celebrated upon that altar provide a plenary indulgence to the holy soul for which the sacrifice is offered at that moment, provided that the mass is a Requiem mass, unless the rubrics prevent that particular celebration. All altars are privileged on All Souls' Day, and it used to be that some priests were granted a 'personal privilege'. I bet they were in high demand for funerals! Assuming that the new altar in this church was dedicated to St Thomas when it was installed after the previous one was removed, it retained the privilege. "Ah, but those things are not important anymore," I can hear somebody say. Lumen Gentium 49-51 provides a little foundation stone for our belief about life after death, as does the Credo of the People of God, composed by Paul VI at the conclusion of the last Year of Faith in 1968 (see Neuner-Dupuis 39/21; sorry that I can't provide a Denzinger reference, as mine stops eighteen years to soon). Perhaps we could re-discover this beautiful modern creed as we prepare for the new Year of Faith to be inaugurated by Pope Benedict in October this year, as the Church turns her mind and heart to the new evangelisation.

St Francis Xavier, Hereford, administered by the Benedictines.
A fine example of restored architecture in the context of a
liturgical celebration which is both modern and edifying.


Anonymous said...

Saint Thomas of Canterbury Church in Woodbridge was indeed built in 1850 but it had many other owners before the property was bought by the Northampton Diocese in 1929. The following year it was converted for Catholic worship by the Birmingham architect, Arnold Crush, FRIBA, a Catholic convert.

From 1850 to 1929 the building was used as a Temperance Hall, a Lecture Hall, a Mechanics Institute and the meeting rooms for the Y.M.C.A.

A member of the Woodbridge Carmelite Convent painted the script "Altare Privilegiatum" which hangs above the altar. The nuns left Woodbridge in 1938 and moved to Rushmere near Ipswich. In 1948 they moved again to their present convent at Quidenham in Norfolk.

The heraldic achievement on the baldacchino is that of H.H. Pope Pius XI (Achille Ratti), 1922-39.


EA Seminarians said...

Thank you, Father, that's quite interesting. I enjoyed my visit!