The Blyth Valley boasts its fair share of the 500 medieval churches of Suffolk, a rich resource for those interested in church architecture, history and beauty. From Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh rising vertiginously from the marshes to St Peter’s, Wenhaston home to a remarkable medieval Doom painting to the thatched church at Bramfield with its rare detached round tower and the painted ceiling at Huntingfield. As church historian Simon Knott has said “The area is a rich field for the churchcrawler; within ten miles of St Mary’s (Halesworth) are at least twenty superb medieval buildings, set for the most part in narrow lanes hemmed in by hedges“.
Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to imagine the scale and impact of the wave of despoliation of medieval artwork that was carried out by Puritan iconoclasts – which makes what remains, such as the gessowork font at Westhall chosen to grace the cover of Eamon Duffy’s seminal The Stripping of the Altars, the more precious and moving.
While the focus is on the medieval, the non-conformist chapel at Walpole, reputedly the oldest in the country, has a sublime simplicity.
And it’s worth remembering that although of interest for their architecture, local churches attract overseas visitors seeking evidence of their English forebears (many early settlers in America sailed there from Suffolk) as well as genealogists researching family history with the help of parish records and tombstones.
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