Stained glass in Holy Trinity, Long Melford
Saint William of Norwich at St Peter & St Paul
Delve into Suffolk’s prosperous past at the churches of Holy Trinity in Long Melford and St Peter & St Paul in Eye
Encounter some hidden medieval treasures – from bench carvings to wall paintings – in less frequented churches
Stay in the heart of Bury St Edmunds, a stone’s throw from its fascinating cathedral with layers of modern architecture
Like its neighbour Norfolk, the undulating landscape of Suffolk possesses one of the highest concentrations of churches in the UK. Many are famous for their magnificent stained glass, celebrated nationally “for the people they depict, the stories they tell and their famous designers” (National Churches Trust, 2018).
Yet these churches also help to reveal important religious, architectural and economical developments: rising on the back of the 15th century woven cloth trade, many owe their life and character to the region’s burgeoning wealth, as well as changes that came later, from the Reformation to 19th century revisions.
Encasing some fine 15th century stained glass, the parish church at Stratford St Mary boasts a beautiful exterior, characterised by flint flushwork and medieval inscriptions. A similar impression awaits us at Eye, where one of East Anglia’s grandest churches – St Peter and St Paul – offers a striking reflection of the region’s medieval prosperity; it is particularly famous for its late-15th century rood screen depicting saints and monarchs beneath graceful, gilded arches.
Among the most renowned wool towns of the county, Long Melford boasts a fittingly spectacular parish church in Holy Trinity, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in the country. Perched at the village’s highest point, it entrances visitors with its medieval stained glass, including the famous depiction of the Trinity as three interlocked hares, and its light-filled lady chapel.
No less important for our understanding of the period are some less frequented buildings. St Nicholas’s Church in Denston is a prime example of late Perpendicular architecture and a treasure trove of original features, including misericords, a panelled font and medieval benches topped with animal carvings. Meanwhile, St Mary’s Church in Bacton retains some 14th century bell windows, a fine double hammerbeam roof, and a medieval Last Judgement (or ‘doom painting’) above the chancel arch.
Our tour begins with something of a contrast. Originally a parish church, St Edmundsbury attained its cathedral status in 1914. Following 19th century restorations by George Gilbert Scott and James Wyatt, this fascinating and multilayered structure has since undergone significant modern expansions by architects including Stephen Dykes Bower: a new choir, cloister, lady chapel, and Gothic revivalist Millennium Tower were all completed by 2005.
Our base for the tour will be the four-star Angel Hotel, a stylish and charming boutique establishment set among the cobbled streets of Bury St Edmunds.
This tour will be led by medieval historian Imogen Corrigan, BA, MPhil. Following almost 20 years in the army, from which she retired in the rank of Major, Imogen obtained a first-class degree in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval History from the University of Kent and subsequently an MPhil from the University of Birmingham. Her book Stone on Stone: The Men who Built the Cathedrals was published in 2019. She is also an accredited Arts Society lecturer and a Freeman of the Company of Communicators. Imogen has run ACE’s perennially popular Churches of Norfolk tour for several years and is delighted to also be able to offer this exploration of Suffolk.
"I am excited to take an ACE group on this tour, which will introduce us to an array of delightful and very different parish churches and reveal our medieval ancestors. I am increasingly convinced that we can learn about them as real people from the carvings and images that they left behind, and explore what mattered to them.
The churches we will visit were built before the Reformation of the 1530s, in a time when most people truly believed that both heaven and hell existed and that it was their duty to get into paradise. That said, they were human beings with human frailties and fears, not to mention a keen sense of the absurd. It is evident that they also wanted to bring their good works to God’s attention, as we may discover on this tour. I have included some well-known churches but also ones that might be new, even to enthusiastic church explorers, and, as always, I have chosen ones which showcase some of the best glass, carvings and murals that the county has to offer."
— Tour Director Imogen Corrigan
Please contact the office
for more details.
Included: Accommodation based on sharing a twin or double bedded room, breakfast, dinner with water & coffee, excursions & admissions, gratuities.
Not Included: Travel insurance, double room for single use supplement £150.