In the middle of November, a friend, Simon, came to stay. He expressed an interest in visiting some churches with me, and I was delighted. I hadn’t suggested it, for fear of inflicting my personal project on an innocent bystander, but a change from solo outings was certainly welcome. My indecision as to a suitable destination was finally resolved when I remembered the Dancing Goat Café in Framlingham: we would have to go there for lunch, as Simon is a goat fan. (The fact there aren’t actually any dancing goats at the café is neither here nor there, since he could have his fill of such silliness at my house.) There were various churches in the vicinity that I hadn’t yet visited, and a brief search online suggested they were all worth a visit.
St Andrew’s, Kettleburgh
Outdoor temperature: 11.1˚C; indoor temperature: 9.4˚C
After sampling the café’s unusual and delicious lunch menu, Kettleburgh was our first stop out of Framlingham. We found the church at the end of a lane, next to a farm. The car park seemed to be a little distance away, so I pulled in at a gateway beside the churchyard to send Simon on ahead with my cello. As I was figuring out how to reverse out without ending up in the ditch, I met two friendly dog walkers, who resolved a doubt of mine regarding the correct pronunciation of the village name: it is ‘Kettle-bruh’. They also assured me that the white geese nearby, which were causing me a little concern due to an incident of intimidation that I had undergone at the beaks of some farmyard geese a few years previously, weren’t within reach of the church car park.
Safely back at the church after parking my car, I entered a beautiful interior with a large quantity of shields both on the roof and on the early 15th century font1. I am completely ignorant in such matters, but Simon recognised one of the shields as belonging to the Howard family. Luckily there was an insert in the church guide describing all the shields, so we were able to read up about the rest. The features that interested me more, however, were the usual ones: the old pamment and brick floor, carved bench ends, 13th century coffin slab in the floor of the chancel (photo below, second from right), medieval stained glass fragments, and the strange story of the medieval coffin (complete with skeleton) built into the south wall of the nave, the lid of which formed the bottom step of the rood stairs (photo below far right).
It felt very cold in the church, but I managed to take off my gloves for long enough to play two movements of the Bach C minor suite I had recently performed. My hands felt much recovered since my last attempt to play the cello, and the acoustic helped greatly. Afterwards I continued my tour, and went on a graffiti hunt. One carving I found looked like the sole of a shoe, and another looked like an arrow. I have only now noticed from the photograph that there appears to be an N next to it, but I am fairly sure the arrow was pointing east. So perhaps the N is not in fact connected to the arrow, and the arrow has a different significance; or perhaps it is not an arrow at all, but something else entirely.
A huge blocked archway on the north side of the nave was explained in the church guide as the entrance to a chantry chapel, but no explanation as to the fate (or continued existence) of the chapel was given, so after we had finished looking around inside, I went outside to find out if it was still there. There was nothing but a matching archway in the exterior wall, blocked up with brick, with a piscina (or holy water stoup) next to it. The blocked-up window I found in the porch was more thoughtfully done, however: filled in with flint, the effect was unusual and beautiful.
St Mary’s, Monewden
Indoor temperature: 8.9˚C
Due to my dawdling at Kettleburgh, we didn’t have as much time to visit another church as I’d hoped. I was determined that we would, however, and the nearest was Monewden, which, I had found out on an earlier occasion, is pronounced ‘Monadon’. But either my satnav led us astray, or I failed to pay attention at a crucial moment, and we ended up in quite the wrong place – somewhere near Hoo. We enjoyed our drive nevertheless: it was a lovely time of the season, with the oaks lining the country lanes finally joining in the autumn display, and their bronze leaves still glowing brightly in the fading light.
With the help of the map, we eventually found Monewden church. I had to abandon any thoughts of taking photographs today because of our detour, but I knew that a return trip to this very pretty church would be a great pleasure. Its Tudor brick porch was thoroughly welcoming, and inside it felt cosy despite the cold. Turning on the lights made it look even cosier. There is little more comforting than the sight of lights in the windows of a small rural church in the autumn dusk, and as I walked back the short distance to the road to collect my cello, I glanced back many times.
Oddly, I felt warmer here than at Kettleburgh, despite the thermometer indicating otherwise. I expect that perception of temperature depends far more on how warm or cold you already feel. In any case, my fingers moved more freely, and I played three more movements of the same Bach suite while Simon looked around.
Sometimes when I play in a church, it strikes me how enjoyable it would be to give a concert there, and Monewden was one such church. It isn’t only – or even necessarily predominantly – because of the acoustic. The size, layout and, most importantly, atmosphere of the church, are all contributing factors. I am sure the feeling of playing music indoors while the light dwindled outdoors also had a lot to do with it: music seems made for drawing people together and keeping darkness at bay.
I joined Simon in looking around the church afterwards, enjoying the ancient bench ends and the rood stairs, whose bottom step began at a low windowsill, in a similar fashion to Kenton church. When we left at 4.30, it was already almost dark. I couldn’t quite believe that the afternoons had drawn in so fast. Loading our equipment and ourselves into the car, we set off home, glad that we had fitted in a second church, glad that it was as lovely as Monewden, and snugly happy with our day’s adventures.
Header photo: floor detail, Kettleburgh church
1. Kettleburgh church guide