Suffolk churches 166: Kentford and Denham St Mary (February 2020)

St Mary’s, Kentford
I had planned a day out to visit Kentford, Denham (St Mary, near Bury, rather than St John, near Eye) and Depden. But when I phoned the keyholder at Depden, she advised me to wait for better weather: the path was so muddy, she said, I might not be able to stay upright carrying my cello. If I hadn’t been dependent on her for the key, I probably would have gone anyway; but I couldn’t really insist, beyond saying I was planning to wear wellies, which didn’t convince her. So my outing was reduced to two churches. Kentford was first, after some errands in Bury.

Afterwards I wished I’d read more carefully the instructions Sue, the keyholder, had sent to me by email: I forgot she had told me where to park, which was by no means a straightforward task on the bendy, busy road through the village. The church was perched on a hill beside the road, and neither driveway I tried seemed to lead to any church parking. By the time I found a relatively safe spot a little way up the road, I had wasted a good deal of time, and realised that if I wasn’t careful, my estimated time of arrival at the keyholder’s house in Denham St Mary would be completely wrong. I wished I hadn’t given her one, and instead said I’d phone when I was on my way. But optimism never seems to learn its lesson.

Kentford interior Kentford interior 2

Kentford wall paintingKentford windowKentford faceKentford was a stubby-towered church. I very nearly concluded the church was locked despite my arrangements with Sue, until I realised I should try the north door – another reason I wished I’d read the instructions more carefully. Or, more accurately, remembered that I’d been sent some. This door, thankfully, was open, and I stepped inside to a simple, beautiful church with a brick floor and a wall painting.

But it was freezing. I thought I could stick it out without my usual star jumps and running up and down the aisle: it was a lot of effort to warm up, and since time was limited I thought I’d rather just play for a short time instead. But soon, along with the difficulty of finding somewhere to park, the pain in my right wrist – I didn’t know where that came from – my earrings constantly snagging on my scarf, my jacket poppers rattling when I played, and the persistent sound of A14 traffic outside, the cold became too much to bear. It takes very little time, I discovered, for physical and mental irritability to develop into emotional irritability.

Exasperation forced me to stop playing after about fifteen minutes. It was a shame, because the church was lovely. I resolved to go back in warm weather, with more time and in a better frame of mind to do it justice.

St Mary’s, Denham
Denham St Mary
It was my third visit to Denham. The first visit was legitimate – I didn’t know it was kept locked – but the second was simply because I’d forgotten that I’d already been once. This time I didn’t make the same mistake. I looked it up online and found the email address for a churchwarden. I emailed him, but immediately received an autoreply saying he was away for the next few weeks, so I thought I would have to make alternative arrangements. But an hour or two later, I heard back: he directed me to another keyholder called Jo, and told me what her house looked like and roughly where it was. This, of course, didn’t prevent my getting in a muddle whilst looking for it and having to phone her.

Eventually, the key and I reached the church together. First things first, however: I needed to eat something. I tried a banana I’d bought in Bury. I could see it was green, but thought it would still be edible. It wasn’t. I only succeeded in reviving my lingering irritability with bitterness and an unpleasant covering on my teeth which even water wasn’t really able to shift. I drank and swished it round my mouth with the same urgency a hot chilli brings. My outing really wasn’t going well.

Denham St Mary 2Without the time limit that hindered me at Kentford, however, the church and the cello were enough to save the day. I entered through the brick extension, which gave the church a slightly odd shape and hid the tower from view of the car park, which was at the northeast corner of the church and a good few feet lower. The brick extension turned out to be a chapel with several large memorials inside. I noticed on this occasion how different it feels having one’s first view of a church from the chancel rather than from the back of the nave. I couldn’t say exactly how it changes my perspective, only that it does.

Denham St Mary interior Denham St Mary interior 2
Denham St Mary font Denham St Mary memorial Denham St Mary interior

Denham St Mary tombDenham St Mary doorwayI managed, after a while, to get into playing the Prelude from the Bach C minor suite. My hands warmed up and I forgot about the multiple irritations of the past couple of hours. By the time I stopped playing, I felt better. I was calm from becoming absorbed in an activity, and satisfied from having done something productive. Not for the first time, I felt as though playing the cello was a good substitute for meditation. Especially in a church.

Wandering round the churchyard afterwards, my attention was caught by a miniature ecosystem on the top of a tomb. My friend, Joost – who is staying with me during the coronavirus confinement – remarked when I showed him the photo, ‘if I had a tomb, I would want it to look like that’.

‘Including the rabbit poo?’ I asked.

Header photo: Tomb top in Denham St Mary’s churchyard

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