Blythburgh, Suffolk

Blythburgh is a village in Suffolk, not far from the coast and within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The village is close to marshes and heathland, and the tidal lagoon of Blythburgh Water. These make the area extremely rich as a wildlife resource.

Blythburgh Church (Holy Trinity) is a large building that seems to be out of proportion to the size of the village. Known as the “Cathedral ofthe Marshes” it gives the impression that Blythburgh must once have been considerably larger than it is now. However, there is no evidence that the village was ever anything other than a small one. There was once an important medieval priory nearby that was wealthy enough to endow a large church, so that is why it is the size it is.The choir stalls have holes for inkwells, due to the chancel once having had a dual role as a school.

The church is notable for its medieval carving, particularly the large angels that look down from the rafters and the pew ends. The rafters and angels show evidence of having been shot at. This was once thought to have been the work of Cromwellian soldiers who were trying to destroy “popish idols”, but the more likely explanation is that local boys were shootings jackdaws in the church!

The pew end carvings, which are known as “poppyheads”, feature the Seven Deadly Sins (plus a few extras) being guarded against by the angels overhead. Slander has his tongue out, Gluttony has a prominent paunch, Hypocrisy prays with his eyes open, and Sloth is still in bed.

In 1577 a lighting bolt brought down the church spire. This was blamed as the work of the Devil, which was confirmed when Black Shuck, the legendary devil dog of the marshes, ran through the church and killed two parishioners. 

Well – that’s what they said! What was certainly true was that the collapse made a hole in the roof and the congregation had to worship beneath umbrellas on wet days before the roof was repaired.

This is certainly a village that is well worth a visit, both for the splendours of Holy Trinity Church and the delights of the local countryside.


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