I had been meaning to go to Hessett church for a while ever since realising there was yet another Grade one listed building I had never seen within easy walking distance. My opportunity came when I met the churchwarden – he wanted an opinion on a piece of cloth- as if I was qualified to give it!
I set off to Rushbrooke initially, taking the long route via the St Edmunds Way. As soon as the West Suffolk Hospital is passed it feels like deep countryside. Crossing a field of ripe wheat, wild flowers were in abundance in hedgerows and verges: Lady’s bedstraw, white campion, blue scabious, and flowering dock which had turned a coral-red. Passing Nowton church, it looked manicured on the outside as if they were expecting royalty:
Rushbrooke church was its usual delightful self and I could not resist three more books in aid of their heating fund. The cover alone for “Into a far Country” (1945, reprinted 1946) had me enthralled. The flysheet reads: “Miss Snow has wisely introduced important lessons of life which will undoubtedly help to guide the thinking and mould the character of its readers”
The walk from Rushbrooke on to Hessett actually seemed easier than going by car, as you simply walk in a straight line between quiet lanes and footpaths. The main incident was that half way across a field I realised it was occupied by some young bullocks who started moving towards me. Fortunately a stile appeared and I crossed over while they were a good distance away.
My phone had gone dead when I reached Hessett, so I regret to say there are no pictures to share. Everything about St Ethelbert’s Church was fascinating. Ethelbert was an C8th king of East Anglia murdered by King Offa’s men, thus predating Edmund by nearly a hundred years. There is a stone post in the front churchyard which was presumably used as a meeting place, possibly even before the church was built. It looked very old, with recesses on each side as if to take planks of wood. It is not described in official descriptions of the church, perhaps overlooked by the fantastic wall-paintings, the medieval stained glass and the many other features which make the place so special. Of the wall-paintings the seven deadly sins was particularly memorable, as well as a painting of St Barbara carrying her tower with windows to represent the Trinity. The warden showed me the vestry, which was possibly used as an anchorage with a medieval wooden ladder leading up to a first floor- it looked quite cosy! He also explained how the Sindon- a Pyx-cloth made of medieval linen embroidery, had been found in a trunk which somehow escaped the rigours of the Reformation. Along with it was a painted Burse- in the manner of Opus Anglicanum, but painted over linen. These objects are currently in the British Museum, but good photographs were on display, and may be found on-line:
So many treasures! I thanked him and set off back over the fields. Unfortunately the bullocks were waiting for me, this time gathered around the stile. I talked with them for a while but they wouldn’t move. I chickened out at this point and retraced my steps to go into the neighbouring village of Rougham and headed directly back to Bury St Edmunds.
If I had been a pilgrim at the time of the Abbey I would have entered the town via Southgate St. As it was I walked along the Lark Valley footpath, offering lovely views of the fields leading up to the Abbey Gardens along with the distant roar of the A14. I am still wondering how the pyx cloth was made- such beautiful work must have had a spiritual significance : not just a demonstration of human skill but threads extending in an orderly fashion.