The grade1 listed parish church of St. Mary the Virgin has Norman origins, and features a porch doorway with "dog tooth" ornamentation and typical period pillars, plus a splendid font which dates from around 1200AD. It also has, (what is believed to be), contemporary painted decoration surrounding the north window. It is recorded that the church was "built anew" in 1342, and then remained largely unchanged until targeted by Protestant vandals in the 1540's. It now unfortunately lacks the small lead spire which once topped the 14c.tower, (which houses the peal of three bronze bells - dating from 1567, 1663 & 1699). The chancel has a fine c.14th piscina, (bowl & drain for Communion water), sedilia, (seating for ministers), and canopied tomb, (once an Easter sepulchre). It also features a rare Sacred Heart altar upon a Stuart Holy Table - typical of the wooden altars which replaced their stone predecessors, which were removed during the reformation.
Whilst the church was undergoing some restoration work c.1864, four medieval alabasters were found embedded in chancel wall. They were donated to the British Museum in 1883, which is where the originals still reside. However, some plaster copies were presented by the trustees of the museum in 1934, and remain on display in the church to this day. They are believed to represent The Holy Trinity, The Annunciation of Our Lady, The Ascension of Our Lord, and The Coronation of Our Lady, (a renovated version of which is housed behind a grille on the south-eastern buttress in memory of a past rector). They are regarded as some of the finest examples of medieval carving that have survived, and are thought to be from the London School of Carvers, c.1350, (additional ref. "English Medieval Plaster Work" by W. Hope - pub. by the Society of Antiquaries).
The church also features one of Suffolk's finest modern rood screens. It was designed by Father Ernest Geldart in 1890, and decorated by Patrick Osborne in 1949, (he also painted the finely carved altar reredos), with the figures added shortly afterwards by Enid Chadwick of Walsingham, (commissioned in 1950 by Reverend Butler).
The panels depict (from left to right):
Felix of Dunwich - a native of Burgundy, he was called to England by Sigbert the Learned, and had his episcopal seat at Dunwich.
Sir Thomas More - Lord Chancellor, beheaded in 1535 by Henry VIII for treason.
Thomas a Becket - Chancellor of England, and Archbishop of Canterbury. Murdered in 1170.
John Fisher - Cardinal, Bishop of Rochester. Beheaded in 1535 by Henry VIII for treason.
Alban - first British martyr, (304). From Verulanium, (now St. Albans).
Fursey (Fursa) - Irish monk who came to England during the reign of Sigbert, (631 - 634), and founded a monastery at Burgh Castle, (nr.Gt.Yarmouth).
Some interesting choices, since two of these were not even recognised as saints until 1998!
Regarded as a place of pilgrimage to the followers of the Anglo-catholic movement from all over England, Kettlebaston was the liturgically highest of East Anglian churches and affectionately bore the nickname of "the shrine on the hills". From his arrival in 1930, Reverend Father Harold Clear Butler said Roman Mass every day, and celebrated High Mass and Benediction on Sundays. He also removed state notices from the porch, refused to keep registers, (and even to recognise the office of the local Archdeacon)! Evidence of this is to be found on October 2nd 1933 where the only register entry reads, "Visitation of Archdeacon of Sudbury. Abortive. Archdeacon, finding no churchwardens present, rode off on his High Horse". This had been a militant Anglo-catholic parish for long before Reverend Butler's arrival however, (from the late nineteenth century in fact), but he was to be the incumbent at the movements end. In 1963, (with his health failing), he wrote to a friend, "You are right, there is no congregation any more", and retired the next year closing an extraordinary chapter in the village's history.
Still without an electricity supply, the church is illuminated entirely by oil lamps & candles. This creates a magical atmosphere, (especially at our plainsong complines), which can be enjoyed at various services and events throughout the year, (click here to hear a 50 second soundbite) .
The lack of a power supply also dictates that we have to use a hand pumped, (Lieblich), organ, by Thomas C. Lewis of London. This was obtained from the Church of St. Nicholas in Wattisham upon its closure in 1977.
The ancient churchyard is a haven for wildlife, and is now managed as a conservation area under the guidelines of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. This additional care has dramatically increased many species of unusual plants, which include Pyramidal Orchids, Wall Rue, and Vervain. A copy of the 2001 churchyard flora survey can be viewed here.
St. Mary's marked the new millennium by producing an entire set of embroidered kneelers, and is very grateful to all those that have contributed . A full list of the 34 people involved is on permanent display in the church.
Kettlebaston is now part of a benefice, (since Fr. Butler's retirement in 1964), and currently incorporated with Monks Eleigh with Chelsworth, and Brent Eleigh with Milden.
To view the Church interior as it would have appeared had the original altar rails still been in place
A member of the London Gregorian Association, he helped assemble the Service Book for the annual festival in St. Paul's Cathedral. He supported the Oxford Movement, and pioneered the restoration of plainchant and Gregorian music in Anglican worship.
He died in Brentwood on February 15th, 1926.
By sheer chance the tune was rediscovered on the centenary year of its publication (2003), and was performed for the very first time at that years Music Festival.
To listen to a midi file of "Kettlebaston" please click the icon, or here to download a copy of the score .
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