At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Sweffling

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

Sweffling

crowned lion porch (15th Century) woodwose: wild man with a club

   

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Sweffling is a lovely little village in an area of lovely little villages. Its church sits in hilltop splendour, clearly a successor to a fortified building, perhaps even a pagan site. The churchyard rises above the houses, two of which flank the entrance. They must be fine places in which to live. The one to the left has windows overlooking the graves. I remember once seeing a poster for the annual Sweffling v Rendham football match pinned to the church noticeboard, and these two adjacent parishes are traditional rivals.

The view from the graveyard is gorgeous, of rolling hills beyond the cottages. This really is High Suffolk. Externally, this is rather a grand building, and looks old. There is obvious renewal along the top of the nave walls, and the tower doesn't look quite right, and Mortlock thought it had been truncated. However, it is not unattractive, and adds to the impression of a strong and solid church.

The best feature of the exterior is the grand porch, so typical of Suffolk's 15th century flintwork. It is set-off well by the nave's red-brick walls. A wild man and a wyvern spar in the spandrels, quite clearly to me, although Cautley thought them St George fighting a dragon. There are three splendid crowned alcoves for statues, which, as so often in Suffolk, must have had very short lives before their removal and probable destruction in the 1540s.

To step inside is a bit of a disappointment at first, because it appears that the inside has been so thoroughly Victorianised, but the church retains the feel of a quiet, prayerful space, and is certainly not without interest.

The most striking survival is the set of 18th Century decalogue boards painted directly on to the north wall. It is done so well that, at first, you might think them to be painted on hanging wood. They are a reminder that it is not safe to assume these boards were always moved by the Victorians from behind the altar. They are painted over an even earlier set, and topped off by a set of Queen Anne royal arms.

The font is made of grey Purbeck marble. It's an off-the-peg job of the 13th century, with curved arches all around. A fretwork Our Father hangs on the west wall, a pleasing 19th Century period piece. On the south side of the nave, Paul Quail's depiction of St Andrew as a Suffolk fisherman being summoned by Christ is striking, and good for the workshop. At the other end of the church, the Y-tracery of the east window is elegant and seemly.

The one disappointment to me was that Sweffling church is now left locked without a keyholder notice. Luckily, I could remember where the key had been kept on my previous visit. On that occasion I had been pleased to find the Sweffling Museum, a collection of photographs and artifacts about people and events in Sweffling in days gone by, tucked under the little ringing platform at the west end. It seemed a pleasing touchstone to th elong local generations. Here were available, with full public access, copies of the parish records. The exhibits are still there, but today the area is used for storage, with tables, chairs and other equipment making it impossible to see the displays. This seemed a shame.

Simon Knott, May 2019

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looking east sanctuary Sweffling museum
font royal arms and decalogue boards Sweffling men who fell in the Great War fretwork Our Father follow me

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