Woolpit church is one of Suffolk’s finest and also an all time favourite of mine. I have loved this church since I first set eyes on it as a young child in the late 1970s whilst attending the wedding of one of my cousins here. I was mesmerized by the riot of wood-carving within, the angels gazing down from the ceiling and the animals perched on the bench-ends, it was so unlike the austere 1960s building we attended mass in at home!
You could say my interest in churches began here; though it had been sparked by an earlier visit to Norwich (which I still recall despite only being at the age of three), Woolpit church and the artwork within it galvanised my resolve to see and learn more, pushing me in the direction of churchcrawling and even choosing a related career as a stained glass artist.
Woolpit was the family home of my Uncle, Aunt and cousins so has been familiar over many visits since childhood. Later the ashes of my maternal grandparents (the only ones I knew) were buried here in the churchyard close to the north door, and more recently my Uncle Rod joined them nearby following his funeral here. He spent his last years living in the cottage next to the churchyard. It is a place full of memories to me.
Back in the late 1990s I submitted a design for a Millennium window for this church based on the famous local legend of the Green Children of Woolpit. It received some support and even Diocesan approval but was rejected in the end on the understanding that the village needed to mark the event with something for everyone, not just the church so an allotment was provided instead. My late Uncle’s calligraphic text on the Green Children legend has hung in the church for many years.
So why is this church otherwise so special? It is a beautiful mostly 15th century building, distinguished externally by a handsome two-storied porch and an elegant tower and spire (a 19th century addition after the collapse of previous towers). Within however the real glory is in the medieval roof, the double-hammerbeam angel roof over the nave is one of the finest anywhere (the angels are skillful Victorian recreations by Henry Ringham after the originals were lost to iconoclasts centuries earlier but restore the intended effect beautifully).
The medieval benches are particularly special here, all of which feature animal carvings at either end which were spared by the iconoclasts since animals didn’t offend them the way saints and angels did. The benches nearer the front of the nave are careful recreations following the originals but the whole set works as a united whole and the parade of quirky creatures up the aisles is a delight to behold.
The church is usually kept open for visitors and shouldn’t be missed, it is in my opinion one of the loveliest in East Anglia.
Tagged: , Woolpit , church , Suffolk , medieval , wood carving , woodwork , pews , bench end