Of all the churches I planned to see on this excursion this was the one that I was the most excited about, not only is Blythburgh one of Suffolk’s finest but among the best and grandest parish churches in the country, all the more surprising in this rural location. I’d known about it for decades, so it was most satisfying to finally get to see it for myself.
Holy Trinity at Blythburgh dates mostly from the 15th century, a grand essay in the Perpendicular Gothic style. The first impression is of flint walls punctuated by a mass of windows, especially in the clerestorey above, along with the building’s great size and length. The is much ornamental carving around the windows and parapet, most strikingly the carved figures that stand in place of pinnacles. The tower by contrast appears rather plain, a stern sentinel watching over the building; this is in part due to storm damage in 1577 which brought down the steeple and is likely when the belfry windows lost their tracery and received their current boarded-over appearance. The south porch below makes a grand statement and beckons us to enter, noting the unusual survival of a water-stoup.
Inside a vast space is revealed, well lit by mostly clear-glazed windows and and filled with ancient woodwork. Not only is this church beautiful it is also delightfully authentic, having undergone little restoration over the centuries (it must have been a heavy burden for such a small community) and thus is a place of real ageless atmosphere, most of the furnishings are pre-Victorian and the only coloured glass is the collection of medieval fragments in the traceries of a few windows.
The most impressive feature is the roof, retaining much of its original painted decoration and angel figures down the centre, also retaining much colour. This feature was familiar to me from so many photos in books, but in finally seeing it with my own eyes it lost none of its impact. It extends almost the full length of the building as there is little structural division between nave and chancel.
After absorbing the beauties above attention should go to the riot of medieval carving at ground level, where all the nave pews retain their 15th century bench-ends with figurative carvings, some with subjects from the Acts of Mercy and Seven Deadly Sins, not all in great condition but a remarkable survival nonetheless. In the chancel the stall fronts bear surprisingly well preserved rows of carved canopied apostles, not necessarily in situ as much of the woodwork looks reconstructed but the figures themselves appear to be rare medieval survivals.
This is a church to spend some time in and soak up its special atmosphere. Being on a bit of a mission that day I didn’t have time to sit peacefully as one should, but it was the longest stop on my itinerary, and one of the most rewarding, I’d happily return.
This is one of the ‘must see’ churches of Suffolk and is always open and welcoming by day accordingly. For the third time that day I met a couple doing a similar excursion to me and we briefly chatted about what a joy it is to visit, I urge others to do likewise.