At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Cretingham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Cretingham church from Brandeston Hill Cretingham The Cretingham dead
Cretingham Cretingham Cretingham

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          Cretingham is a pleasant, self-contained sort of place, set in the lonely lanes between Debenham and Framlingham. This part of Suffolk rolls gently, fields dipping into valleys, fine old houses appearing through copses of trees. Added to this, Cretingham has a decent pub, the Bell. It is pleasant to wander through the lanes that connect Cretingham with neighbours Framsden, Brandeston and Kettleburgh and end up at the Bell afterwards.

The church is set to the east of the road that rises north out of the village, a delight as you approach it up the churchyard path, its ice cream walls punctuated by Perpendicular windows in the nave and Early English in the chancel. If it wasn't for the tower and the graveyard you might even think it was a cottage. There are three niches around the entrance of the otherwise unelaborated 14th Century porch. Probably, they once contained a rood group.

The porch leads into a lovely interior, at once rustic and ancient. This is very much a church greater than the sum of its parts. There was a restrained 19th Century restoration, and the overwhelming impression is of at least a century earlier, the range of box pews leading the eyes to the double-decker pulpit. There are some older benches at the west end of the nave, elegantly carved with typical 15th Century motifs. There is a good set of three-sided communion rails, generally an unusual survival in East Anglia, although there are several sets around here. Also striking is that there are traces of paint on the font. It is is entirely possible that the paintwork is not a medieval survival, but dates from the 18th Century, when there was a brief fashion for painting old stonework.

There is a good Charles II coat of arms. Nothing remarkable about that, but when it was restored a few years ago it was found to have a set of the Ten Commandments on the back. Now, this almost certainly means that the arms are a repainted version of Charles I, and that the board was simply reversed during the Commonwealth in a rare act of puritan pragmatism. In preparation for the restoration of the monarchy, the lower part was repainted, replacing James I's motto of Exurgat Deus, Inimici Dissipentur ('Rise up o God and Scatter my Enemies', my favourite Latin tag I think) with God Save the King and the figures of Arts and Agriculture. One of those threads of continuity that make our parish churches testaments to the buffeting of history.

In 1532, an earlier but certainly no more gentle age, Lionel Lowthe died and was commemorated a good half a century later by his by-then elderly daughter Margaret Cornwaleys on the north wall of the chancel. His effigy kneels, but has lost its legs, a curious sight. To the right of it on the east wall of the chancel is another Cornwaleys memorial, to Margaret's son John Cornwaleys. Jonathan Bayliss says this is likely to be the memorial that Nicholas Stone was paid for in 1622.

In a window opposite is a small piece of late medieval heraldic glass, but otherwise the windows are clear, filling the building with a lovely creamy light. I most often visit this church in summer, but about ten years ago I sat here in the late afternoon gloom of a day in November watching the dust falling gently through the air, as if time itself were settling here.


Simon Knott, September 2020

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looking east three-sided altar rails looking west
Cornwaleys memorial double decker pulpit font C 2 R royal arms
BVM decalogue three rampant lions
Stephen Trappett A Greek scholar, one who always wished to live at peace with his neighbours Cretingham Change Ringers


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