St Peter’s, Creeting St Peter
It was a beautiful afternoon when I drove to Creeting St Peter church, which had been left open for me. It took me a while to find it: for a church so near both Stowmarket and the A14, it was well hidden away.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of the acoustic: the church was crowded and dark. But I found a ray of sunshine at the front of the nave and set up there, and found the acoustic beautiful, as well as the wall paintings which I could see well enough in the dim light. It felt so precious to be there on my own, and once I was warmed up the pain in my left arm subsided. I had organised a concert in Trimley St Mary church near Felixstowe that week with friends, so practice was a necessity. I felt the obstacle to playing was as much psychological as it was physical – the diagnosis was cubital tunnel syndrome, a compressed nerve at the elbow – and that I needed to do this concert for my own sanity as much as anything. If the programme was lightweight, I hoped it wouldn’t do any damage.
I had been starting to wonder whether the problem was psychosomatic. I don’t really believe this, but it still does occur to me from time to time that perhaps one’s body reacts more strongly to things than we give it credit for, and so a problem that I had managed well enough for nearly a year started to become intolerable more or less at the same time as James’ health plummeted towards the inevitable. The timing seemed suspicious. Perhaps I didn’t want to play without him, and therefore my body was making it impossible for me to do so. I wonder if this concert was in some way an attempt to challenge this suspicion, as well as to get over the mental hurdle of playing in public without him by sharing joyful music with other, non-pianist, friends.
I didn’t want to leave Creeting St Peter, even though I was excited to go to Palgrave next. It felt so precious to have that space to myself; I felt almost normal for a while. The effect of playing in churches on my state of mind never ceases to amaze me, and in these virus-ridden days when only certain churches are open at certain times for private prayer, it has made me think more and more about whether visiting churches to play the cello is bending the rules or even breaking them. No, I’m not praying to a god. But interpreting the word prayer only slightly metaphorically, I am coming closer and closer to the conclusion that there is very little difference. My Christian friends reply without hesitation that ‘of course playing the cello counts as private prayer’, even though they know I’m not religious. I’m sure there are a few who would disagree, but the danger of offending anyone seems small. If anything, music might be a more effective medium of prayer than words, and ever since I came across Goethe’s description of architecture as frozen music, I have felt that I may be doing the churches a service by filling them with music, especially now, when they are left locked and alone so much of the time.
After I came home I read about the wall painting in Creeting St Peter church. I can’t see it in the photographs I took, but apparently there is a Latin inscription on it that translates as:
‘Whosoever regards this image will feel no burden in his heart today.’
Perhaps every church should have this inscription on its doorway, replacing only the words ‘regards this image’ with ‘enters this building ’.
St Peter’s, Palgrave
It was good to have an excuse to drive through Mellis once more: I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been here. And I’d almost forgotten what it was like to drive through unknown lanes in remote corners of Suffolk. A holiday in miniature.
On the map, Palgrave looked almost like a suburb of Diss. But I arrived in another typically lovely north Suffolk village in front of a beautiful church with a stunning porch and pretty planted churchyard path. The sunshine was a bonus. It was a delight to pull up at a church and see a ‘church open’ sign outside on the pavement, and I hoped it wouldn’t be too many months until this was the norm again.
Unexpectedly and pleasingly, in the church bookstall I found a copy of the book I’d managed to leave at my friend’s house in Wiltshire over a month earlier: Wilding by Isabella Tree, a name that causes me ongoing amusement. It was a book that was taking me a remarkably long time to get through, and I probably won’t have finished it by the end of the year. Unlike most books that I find hard to finish, however, I know that I want to persevere with this one, and not only because I don’t like leaving books half read. The people I have spoken to who have read it seem to be divided into two camps: the first, like me, who have found it interesting but a much harder read than they expected, as it is dense and full of statistics, history and other factual information. The other, those who have found it a compelling read, hard to put down until they reached the end.
The church was much larger and more spacious in feel than Creeting – its outstanding features the painted medieval roof and unusually ornate Norman font – and here I managed to do a lot of practice. By the end, I felt happier about giving a concert in two days’ time: less stiff and uncomfortable; more excited. And with more church visits organised for the following weekend, the belief that I might one day finish my project was slowly starting to return.
Header photo: Palgrave church roof detail