At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary Magdalene, Sternfield

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Sternfield Sternfield


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The village of Sternfield is close to Saxmundham and the A12, but you wouldn't know it. The churchyard is set back from the road, enclosed by holly hedges and pine trees, the church sprawling on its slight rise among the high rustle of the long grass. Rabbits fled into the ditches as I pushed my bike up the path and leant it against the unusually long porch almost as if it were a transept to the little nave. The window shafts in the sides are gorgeous, with capitals and tracery, and it seems a shame that they are infilled with perspex sheeting. The slight, unbuttressed tower seems to lend the porch even more grandeur, and on the north side of the porch is a curiosity, a 14th century piscina. It remains from a chapel that once stood here.

Sternfield church is open every day.I stepped inside, surprised to have forgotten the interior. If Sternfield graveyard is wild and rural, the inside of the church has a neat, even urban feel to it, the work of that 19th century maverick J.P. St Aubyn. The church had, in any case, been extensively restored in the 1760s, generally an unhappy date for restorations, so we may assume that St Aubyn did much to improve things. He extended the chancel, and rebuilt the chancel arch. He raised and glazed the sanctuary. However, a medieval sanctus window survives in the west wall, as do a couple of stained glass medieval heraldic shields. Eastwards, there appear at first to be two entrances to the rood loft, one each side. Mortlock thought the one on the south more likely to be a banner stave locker, but if that was the case then it is in a unique location.

The painted reredos depicting Christ healing a blind man is by Benjamin West, and was installed here in the 1830s, thus Georgian in character and early enough to seem pre-ecclesiological. To the north of the communion rail an unusual pair of little windows survive, which may have been a squint from the north chapel altar, or may even have been moved here from elsewhere. They echo the openings in the porch. They are reminders of the past life of this building, and touchstones down the long Sternfield generations, who include Edward Hunt, who, according to a charity board, in 1625 left a gift for those who do not receive parish relief, in coals, meat, and sometimes, gifts in money.

Another former parishioner, Susanna Long, died almost two centuries later, at the age of 102,blessed by the Almighty with the full possession of her faculties until the day of her death. Her nephew was the Rector, William Long, one of the last of the old guard of Georgian preachers before the wave of sacramentalism sent out by the Oxford Movement reached Suffolk and transformed this little church into the way it is today.

Simon Knott, May 2019

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looking east sanctuary font
fierce little dog (20th Century) Annunciation (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1889) reredos: Christ heals a blind man (Benjamin West, 1838)
she lived to the age of 102 years blessed by the almighty with the full possession of her faculties those who do not receive parish relief, in coals, meat, and sometimes, gifts in money
chancel window outdoor piscina porch window

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