St Nicholas, Bedfield
www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk
There is a particular smell to a medieval church filled with fruit and vegetables. Once experienced, it is never forgotten, and instantly draws your imagination back to ancient walls, soft wood and cool tiles. For me, it still recalls the beautiful late medieval roodscreen at Bedfield, lined with apples and onions.
I had cycled
here along the track from Tannington. Once this leaves
the farmyard behind, it becomes the kind of track you'd
have found all over Suffolk before the 1920s and 1930s.
When you look at an old road map of Suffolk, you find
many more byways marked than there are today. Some of
them were surfaced, many have disappeared completely. The
track between Tannington and Bedfield seems to be still
deciding whether or not to settle on the latter option,
for at several points it becomes nothing more than
overgrown tractor ruts in the mud. But for most of the
way it is a gravel track which for part of its route
winds pleasantly through woodland.
Unusually, the panels contain eight Old Testament prophets in gorgeous reds and greens. The faces of some of the prophets have been viciously attacked with a knife. This may have been the work of mid-16th century reformers, but it appears as though the same thing done at Brundish, a couple of miles off, was actually work commissioned by the iconoclast William Dowsing on behalf of the puritans a century later. Dowsing never came to Bedfield, though, but perhaps the Brundish churchwardens did. We stood together, the smiling lady and me, imagining the past.
Why even do it? It may simply have been a result of the injunction against images, that fundamentalist mistrust of the beauty of the human face being depicted. We have had a reminder with the evils meted out by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq that fundamentalism never did anybody any good, and the terrors of the Cromwellian night extended far beyond destroying artwork. As Erich Maria Remarque observed, tolerance is the daughter of doubt. So it gives me immense pleasure to see that behind the wicked knife slashes, the prophets seem a jolly lot, with smiles on their faces and the attitudes of old friends having a good time. Perhaps that is why they were attacked.
sits on the edge of another farmyard, although a proper
road connects it to the fine pub and the village beyond.
The tower dates from the 14th century, when the entire
church seems to have been rebuilt, although there's quite
a lot of evidence of the earlier church, including a fine
Norman north doorway. There are three niches on the west
face of the tower. From their relationship with each
other, we can deduce that they probably contained a rood
group. Peter and I came this way in June 2007, as part of
my plan to revisit the 650-odd Suffolk churches I had
explored more than six years earlier. Quite honestly, we
didn't expect to get in, because what I haven't mentioned
was that, in those days, Bedfield church was just about
the only medieval church in this part of Suffolk which
was kept locked without a keyholder. However, as with
several other places in the area on this beautiful day,
St Nicholas was undergoing its spring clean. The grass
was being cut, the benches polished, the floors mopped.
In fact, they were just finishing, cars pulling off. As
we walked up the graveyard path, we met the keyholder
coming the other way. She was very kind, and very
helpful. She went and checked with her husband that it
would be okay for us to see inside, and then let us into
the Priest door, and we stepped inside to the trim
When it came
back, so did I. I had also been told that Bedfield church
was now open every day, so with some enthusiasm I cycled
down the track from Tannington again, which twenty years
on is now near impassable in places, necessitating
getting off my bike and lifting it over rubble.
Simon Knott, September 2018
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