St Leonard’s, Horringer
Outdoor temperature: 11˚C; indoor temperature: 10.1˚C, humidity: 62%
It was the winter solstice. I try to celebrate this day in some way, as it is my ‘name day’. But this evening I had a concert to play in – a repeat of the Great Barton concert, in St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds – so I’d had my little celebration the day before. Still, I had to practise the cello for the evening’s concert, and I decided that visiting a church would be a nice way to mark the day, especially as the weather was a mild. I was, of course, going to play at a church in the evening anyway, but St Mary’s was familiar to me, and the last time I played there was a sad occasion: the funeral of a friend, Penny’s husband Jeremy. It was also the birth of my church tour idea, however; and my experience of playing at the funeral was so much more calming and uplifting than I ever would have expected, that the memory has a little silver lining amongst the sadness.
Horringer church is located at the entrance to the National Trust’s Ickworth House and Park. For a long time I didn’t realise it was a parish church, thinking it was linked to the estate, even though I knew there was another church within the grounds. After confirming with Penny that it was in fact Horringer village church, and being told by Sam, her son, that it was heated all year round (which I found hard to believe), I decided it was time to pay it a visit.
I found two ladies inside the church struggling to decorate a very tall Christmas tree. I asked if they would mind if I played the cello for a while, and they said perhaps it would help them to decorate the tree, a task which had only been allocated to them that morning. They seemed frustrated with the shape of the tree, which looked to me as though it belonged in a Scandinavian forest with several inches of snow weighing down its branches. It was leaning, and, indeed, a slightly awkward shape for hanging decorations on, but I liked it nevertheless, for its evocation of winter forests.
The idea that the church was heated all year round turned out to be a myth. It wasn’t cold inside, however, and I enquired of the two ladies if the heating had recently been on. They told me it hadn’t, and that it was rarely used due to the expense. I was surprised that one day of mild weather could have had such an instant effect on the interior of the church, but it was quite a relief after my visit to Shimpling just three days earlier. I felt that my cello pieces – a carol and two movements from The Snowman – were a fitting accompaniment to their tree decorating, and in the relative warmth of the church, playing was an enjoyable experience. I asked afterwards if they recognised the pieces; one lady said yes, the other said no. She said she was tone deaf, and that she could only recognise Beethoven and Mozart. I replied that in that case, she could hardly be tone deaf…
We chatted for a while, and when I stood looking at a memorial on the wall which looked as though it should be in the floor, they told me it was soon going to be moved: they were planning, as many churches now are, to put in a kitchen and toilet at the west end of the nave. Apparently, on seeing the memorial, someone had thought there was a body buried in the wall.
I enjoyed the knitted nativity scene at the foot of the font, and the delightfully asymmetrical holy water stoup by the south door. I am still not clear how to tell the difference between a holy water stoup and a piscina. Its location may be the only distinguishing factor: by the altar (piscina), or by the entrance (holy water stoup); but there was also something about the character of this one that inclined me towards the latter.
I was glad of my visit to Horringer, and my chat with the two ladies, and I left the church looking forward to the evening’s concert.
St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds
The first thing I noticed when I entered St Mary’s was how warm it was. The heating was on, but I suspect the mild weather was the greater influencing factor. The second thing I noticed was the large angels on the roof. This was not something I ever looked for until my church tour was underway, and I was glad to discover it.
I looked at St Mary’s with new admiration: it is a lovely church on a grand scale, and I had never taken much notice of it before, except to think when driving past that the tower looks extremely stumpy from the south side. Certainly the last occasion I was in the church was perhaps not one for noticing the church interior, let alone noticing what music I was playing. On top of everything else, I had been in bed the day before with a stomach bug, and was walking about in a daze. But I had given a recital at St Mary’s four months earlier; and before that, had played there with the Kirbye Voices on at least one other occasion, so I had no real excuse for my blindness. The only fact I knew about St Mary’s (courtesy of Ronald Blythe) was that Henry VIII’s sister was buried there.
Sam informed me that St Mary’s had once been in the running for becoming St Edmundsbury Cathedral. I had no idea St James’ next door had ever not been a cathedral, although I had been equally surprised when I discovered it used not to have a tower, and its present one – visible from miles around – was built as a millennium project. I asked why a new cathedral was required, and Sam said that when the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was created (from parts of the Dioceses of Ely and Norwich) in 1914, it needed its own cathedral.
I enjoyed the concert at St Mary’s more than the one at Great Barton, partly because I was better prepared, after my mistake in the previous concert, and partly due to the more clement playing conditions. During the concert I sat next to the tomb of John Baret (see header photo), who had the tomb made before he died in 1467. Fashions are strange things. I simply cannot imagine why anyone, at any time in history, would want to have a tomb lid decorated with a half rotted corpse. But apparently they did.
Total churches to the end of December: 136 +2 chapels
Header photo: John Baret’s tomb in Bury St Mary’s