Suffolk churches 101: Kelsale and Knodishall (November 2018)

St Mary’s and St Peter’s, Kelsale
The following morning, after a blissful night’s sleep in the epitome of rural Suffolk cottages, I went for a walk in the sunshine and then set off in the direction of Saxmundham. Before the afternoon concert in Darsham church, I was due at Aldringham Court nursing home at 2pm to play to the bed-bound elderly mother of an acquaintance, and I intended to fit in two churches on the way. Although all the music I was playing today I had played before, I hadn’t spent quite long enough on them lately to feel comfortable performing them, so I was glad of some practice time.

For some reason, I like the name Kelsale. It conjures up a friendly-feeling, rural village; a place I would like to visit on a day out. I had no actual evidence that it was one. The only acquaintance I had with the village was a brief visit to Maple Farm, which I once read was the home and business of a former High Sheriff of Suffolk. It possesses a delightful ‘farm shop’ consisting of a shed full of fresh produce with an honesty box. Kelsale gateThis is my favourite kind of shopping.

In fact, Kelsale village itself seems to have become almost a suburb of Saxmundham. Arriving at its church was a unique experience: the lychgate – the roofed entrance gate to the churchyard, a term with which I have only recently become familiar – was remarkable, if not somewhat bizarre. It reminded me of a Bangkok temple. I could tell it wasn’t medieval, but that was the extent of my interpretation. ‘It is probably the single finest Arts and Crafts movement structure in the whole of the county,’ is Simon Knott’s diagnosis1. Arts and Crafts is another semi-mysterious term for me: I only have a vague understanding of its meaning, and what period it refers to. It is another item to add to my reading list, I suppose.

Kelsale door Kelsale snake Kelsale door 2

Before entering the church, I was attracted by the small Norman doorway on the south side of the chancel. I noticed a face, and realised I was looking at a comical serpent draped over the door. I immediately wondered whether in fact the common zigzag patterns of Norman arches were always intended as the bodies of snakes. Surely I would have noticed if they were, I thought, doubtfully… On the other side of the church I discovered another Norman doorway, larger but less charming than the other, and without a snake’s head. Perhaps I had not missed scores of stone serpents after all.

Kelsale interior Kelsale interior 2

Kelsale door handleOn my way into the church I admired the old door handle, which I thought must be 15th century at the very latest. The bright day showed off the church at its best: the interior was filled with sunshine and the giant, clear west window was astonishing. The font was just about grand enough to serve the window behind it, as was the 19th century reredos standing beneath it (another term that is still barely part of my vocabulary, and I struggle to pronounce it). It was a large church, but the acoustic was good and playing in the sunlight was blissful.

Kelsale window Kelsale font Kelsale graffiti
Kelsale landscape Kelsale reredos

As I was leaving, I went back to retrieve my spike holder which I had put down beside the reredos when I was taking photographs. I was glad of nearly having forgotten it, because this time I noticed a fluttering in the west window. I hadn’t expected November to be a month requiring the rescue of butterflies. The sun was so warm the butterfly must have woken up. Kelsale butterflyI wasn’t sure it was warm enough to leave it outdoors, but thought it safer to leave it outside than in; hopefully it could then find a more suitable location to hibernate. I stood on a chair and used my spike holder to reach the butterfly. I was pleased with the new use for my strange-looking implement, which always attracts enquiries as to its identity.

I placed the peacock butterfly on a cat’s ear flower in the sunshine, and wished it well.

St Lawrence’s, Knodishall
Knodishall was my next stop. I noticed I had been avoiding it due to a bad experience with an accountant who lived there; but once I looked at a map and realised the church was well out of the village, I stopped worrying.

KnodishallI was glad to have gone, once I got there. It was a lovely little church, and though I couldn’t measure the temperature – at Kelsale I had discovered the battery in my thermometer had died – it actually felt warm inside, so narrow was the church and so great the quantity of sunshine entering through the clear windows.

Knodishall interior Knodishall interior 2

Knodishall windowKnodishall fontIt was a simple interior, with few wall decorations or memorials, neatly painted white walls and an equally neat and plain 13th century font. I enjoyed practising here even more than at Kelsale, helped by the warmth.

The exterior of the church, in the extreme light and shade, looked far more elaborate and colourful than the interior. I enjoyed the mismatched set of windows between the buttressing on the south side; but on this day they were barely more than a background setting to the shadow of the large tree in front.

Knodishall windowsI left for Aldringham in high spirits, well warmed up and ready to brave that most difficult of places, the nursing home.

I couldn’t tell whether June – in her nineties, bed-bound and almost unresponsive – enjoyed the music; I can only say with relative confidence that she didn’t seem to mind it, and seemed to smile when her eyes were open. But the most memorable aspect of my visit there was witnessing the deep love, care and affection with which her daughter treated her. It moved me greatly. Perhaps it seems obvious that this should be the case, but I fear that all too often it is not. She visited her mother every day in that nursing home, to which she had relinquished her so reluctantly. Her treatment of her mother seemed to restore to her the dignity that, if she was aware of it, she might feel that she had lost.

Header photo: Knodishall church windows


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