The venue is St Andrew’s Church, full address Church Lane, Westhall. IP19 8NU
So many people have said that Westhall’s parish church, St Andrew’s, is ‘one of Suffolk’s best kept secrets’ that one feels it can’t really be a secret at all. But somehow it is. This Grade I Listed building lies in a secret valley approached by a narrow sloping lane flanked by trees, fragments of ancient hedgerows and overgrown embankments. The lane opens out into a tiny car park overhung with spreading branches. The church itself is set among leaning tombstones, its’ thatch roof and 13th century tower in “a secret glade shrouded in ancient tree canopies.” * Nowadays this gem is used only spasmodically but a dedicated team keeps it spruce despite the best efforts of the resident bat population.
Visitors are struck with how peaceful and remote it feels; by the birdsong and wind in the trees.
There is a suggestion that the painted panels of the font had been plastered over for protection during the Puritan period rather than disfigured by iconoclasm. This could explain why the font has survived in a much more impressive state than the dozen other such fonts across Suffolk. A picture of the font even graces the front cover of ‘The Stripping of the Altars’, the seminal work by historian Eamon Duffy.
A gorgeously painted rood screen, dating from around 1512, includes a scene that Duffy considers to be of national importance ie the only surviving medieval screen representation of the Transfiguration in England.
as well as other images –
On the North & South walls are large wall paintings including a beautiful flower-surrounded ‘consecration cross’ and traces of a larger painting seeming to consist of the leafy surrounds of roundels.
These, together with the painted rood screen and font, are a reminder that medieval churches were originally vibrant and thrilling spaces and it is from these as well as the inscriptions, architects marks and drawings on the plasterwork that artist Gill Dove has taken inspiration.
The impressive carved Norman west door, a relic of the original 12th century structure is easy to overlook, tucked out of sight beneath the bell tower. A 14th century enlargement of the church turned round its axis of worship – instead of demolishing and replacing the old church a new nave had been built alongside it meaning that to find it you must step into the space beneath the tower, walk to the opposite wall and turn round. In front of you is what was once the main entrance and arcade of windows above, probably from about 1100. Think of that – the south aisle has stood for almost a thousand years.
In essence, St. Andrews is compelling for anyone interested in medieval churches or who relish a sense of history.
Church Lane, Westhall. IP19 8NU
Beware if you have never been to Westhall and think the Church must be in the middle of the village. It’s not, something that can confuse the unsuspecting guest arriving for weddings, baptisms and funerals! However we will be erecting signs to assist navigation.