Clare in the Community

On Remembrance Sunday, 13th November, I had the pleasure of taking my daughter and two of her friends to the tiny village of Clare in Suffolk. The village sports an antique/second hand emporium that I like to visit, and the ruin-remains of what was once a motte-and-bailey castle, that my daughter likes to visit. But the main purpose of our visit on the 13th November was to take part in a Remembrance Sunday service.

The church of St Peter and St Paul in Clare is one of the around 500 medieval churches in East Anglia. The size and beauty of the church testifies to the wealth and importance of the area in the medieval period. Some interesting facts can be found on the church’s own website here. More on the history of the church on this Clare history website.

A remembrance service is yet another opportunity to reflect on the importance of sacred buildings, such as this, to our communities and to our souls. I may not share the regular church-goer’s literal belief in God, but there is no substitute for the sense of sacredness (in Norwegian we have the term “høytid“, which literally means a high, in the sense exulted,  time) that the physical frame of a church building provides. It is one of the few remaining places where we come together, not to be entertained, but to create meaning in the occasion, by our actions and our togetherness.

In the case of this service to remember with gratitude and respect those who gave their lives in the two word wars of the last century, to save us from the tyranny of totalitarian regimes. Coming shortly after the divisive referendum, there is, I believe, healing in knowing that the entire nation is coming together, in similar actions all across the country, to unite around the values that bind us together as democrats and believers in the freedom and dignity of the individual.


The Great Woolly Church of Lavenham

It is of course not the building material of which the headline speaks, but of the source of the money that built one of the most visited of East Anglia’s great wool churches: St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Lavenham, in the green and pleasant county of Suffolk. The village of Lavenham is itself very much worth a visit by anyone with even a smattering of interest in history and/or architecture – apart from the cars it is like walking into a film set in the 15th century – but that is a post of its own. The first trace of building work on the church is dated 1473, and it was finished in 1525. More details here, for the interested reader. We have the generosity of the rich clothier Thomas Spring and the patronage of John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, for the magnificence of this ecclesiastical edifice.

I only want to add a few words about my own sense of a awe, as I entered what is a worship in stone, masonry and wood. A reminder, more needed than ever, of a time when material wealth were, as of course, channelled into the spiritual needs of the community. I also sensed that it was a living church, NOT a museum. They had a children’s area with toys and soft furnishing, a second hand book corner (I really loved that – with an honesty box to pay for your chosen goods), and a little shop. I will leave the pictures to give you an, albeit inadequate, impression, and hopefully tempt you to visit, if at all possible.

Sir William Addison, in his book Local Styles of the English Parish Church, notes that light was all important to the builders of the great East Anglian churches (page 118). I hope my pictures (amateurish as they are) can give you at least a morsel of a sense of this. The overwhelming sensation when standing at the back of the nave of this church was space and light.

The Tin Chapel

There was a time when churches were not turned into luxury flats or storage rooms, but when those people who lacked one demanded one, much in the way some people today protest if they don’t have a Waitrose within strolling distance. The people of Henton, a tiny hamlet in the parish of Chinnor in Oxfordshire were seriously miffed that they had no church – a place for all to celebrate the arrival of babies, the coming of age of the youth, the marriage of the young and the departure of the old. And let’s not forget, the best place to have a chat and catch up on the latest gossip. Finally, in 1886, Magdalen College, Oxford, let some ground for the princely annual rent of 1 shilling to the rector and churchwardens of Chinnor “for the purpose of a mission room to be erected thereon“, and so the people of Henton finally could have their own place of worship. Boulton & Paul of Norwich had the honour of supplying the construction, which was a pre-fabricated building in wood, clad in corrugated iron. It was not Notre Dame or Westminster Cathedral, but it was a place where the good people of Henton could congregate once a month (low frequency of services because they were so remote), a place that was theirs to come together as a community. How telling of our times that before restoration took place between 1994-1997, it had fallen into disrepair and had even been vandalised since services stopped in the 1970s, whilst people got bigger and bigger television sets. And talking of television, it was used as a location in an episode of Midsomer Murders. It is currently residing in the excellent Chiltern Open Air Museum, where I had the pleasure of encountering it whilst on a weekend trip to the area.