We recently had an M R James-inspired day out – visiting some of the churches he highlights in his non-fiction book Suffolk and Norfolk. Choosing three churches in West Suffolk, we began our exploration at St Mary’s in Combs. James writes of this church that the: “benches are good; but the glass is more noteworthy.”
I adored this bench end of the man reading a book, but another was definitely the stuff of nightmares.And I couldn’t help spying a green demon in the glass!
The second church we visited was at St Mary’s in Woolpit where James highlights the nave-roof, which is double hammer-beam, and the screen which “has had new saints painted on the panels”.
He also writes that “The eagle lectern is old and good”.
The reason I wanted to visit Woolpit was because I’d read that there were crowns carved on the porch. Could these be the three crowns of East Anglia as mentioned in my favourite story of James’s – A Warning to the Curious? James must surely have known about them because he writes that “The south porch is rich and beautiful.”
St Ethelbert in Hesset was our third and final church of the day. James writes that it “claims careful attention” and he points out “the exceptional wall paintings” which includes the Tree of Deadly Sins. It was certainly impressive.
In true Jamesian style, a local turned up and was delighted to show us the vestry, which is normally closed to the public, pointing out the ancient stairs. He also let us climb the bell tower. We felt very privileged and were relieved that he was a lot happier to be there with us than James’s sacristan in Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook!
I’ve always loved poking around churches because you never know what treasures you’re going to discover or what stories you’re going to hear and, having M R James as a guide is such a great bonus. And I’m thrilled that my new novella, Christmas with the Book Lovers pays tribute to James and his work. It’s published as an ebook on 31st October and is available to pre-order now on Amazon.