“Seen from any angle it floats on the skyline like a great ship, with a small tower for a fo’c’stle and two turrets for masts…The interior is ablaze with light.”

– Simon Jenkins ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’, p.743.

Image from "Geocass"

Image from “Geocass”

I popped into the Church of Sts Peter and Paul in the little village of Clare recently. Like the more visited Suffolk churches in Long Melford and Lavenham, Clare’s is filled with light from the clerestory.

Tobias, our assistant verger, has been researching how Great St Mary’s would have looked before the Reformation, so it was interesting to read about the destruction wrought in Clare by William Dowsing in 1643:

“We brake down 1000 Pictures superstitious; I brake down 200; 3 of God the Father, and 3 of Christ, and the Holy Lamb, and 3 of the Holy Ghost like a Dove with Wings; and the 12 Apostles were carved in Wood, on the top of the Roof, which we gave order to take down; and 20 Cherubims to be taken down; and the Sun and Moon in the East Window, by the King’s Arms, to be taken down.”

In fact, the cherubim were not destroyed and the sun and moon can still be seen in the east window of the chancel.PICT7589

There is lots going on historically in Clare, with the lovely church, a motte and bailey castle’s ruins, and the oldest Augustinian Priory in England. The Clare Ancient House Museum has a town trail and more information on its excellent website (as well as lovely pargetting).

Elizabeth de Burgh, a niece of King Edward II, lived in Clare for part of her life. Hugely wealthy, Elizabeth was widowed three times before the age of 28 and lived lavishly in Clare castle. On May 28, 1340, she entertained her cousin King Edward III, dining on boar, veal, various poultry, five swans, six herons and three bittern. She is remembered today in Cambridge for founding Clare College.

Access Cambridge Archaeology has led excavations which uncovered Anglo-Saxon burials and decorative medieval tiles in the castle grounds as part of the HLF-funded ‘Managing a Masterpiece’ project in the Stour Valley.  Volunteers have recently formed the Stour Valley Community Archaeology Group and there is also discussion of establishing a heritage centre in the old railway buildings at the foot of the castle mound, so there may soon be even more reasons for a visit!

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