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Church Post Code CO10 9DL

Open to visitors

Visited December 2023

It was a fine sunny December day in 2023, with hardly a cloud in the sky. The early morning frost had burned off and we were heading off in to Suffolk; with the aim of visiting Lavenham, Long Melford, Cavendish and Clare. I don’t often get in to Suffolk but am always richly rewarded when I do. This trip was retracing some of the footsteps taken when I had a few days holiday here back in 2015. A trip that was blighted by heavy rain and poor lighting! It was great to see some of Suffolk’s finest churches with the sun blazing down on them.

   The church of Holy Trinity, Long Melford, was the second of the four visited, having made our way in from the south west from nearby Lavenham. Having spent some time studying the exterior of Lavenham church back in 2015 my thought was that this was the finest church exterior that I had seen; an hour later, looking at the exterior of Long Melford church, that thought still held, but my goodness this is a very fine church! To my mind, Lavenham was marginally the more impressive exterior but then I made my way around to the north east of Long Melford church, with its fabulous east end and suddenly I wasn’t so sure! In the end it doesn’t matter. Just enjoy the finest of what Suffolk has to offer!


As with Lavenham, this is one of the wool churches, a church financed by rich local merchants who had made their fortunes from the wool trade. East Anglia was at the centre of the wool trade and the churches here were on a very grand scale as the rich merchants built fabulous structures to the glory of God, but also to lessen the time that they were to spend in purgatory after death in those pre reformation Catholic days.

    There has been a church here on this site since the eleventh century, but the church as we know it today was rebuilt between 1460 and 1496. There was a period when the rebuilding of Long Melford and Lavenham churches was ongoing at the same time. I wonder how much inter village rivalry there was when both churches were being rebuilt.

 The re-building was mainly financed by rich local merchant John Clopton. Clopton was an interesting character who had been imprisoned in the Tower Of London in 1462 charged with treason. All those charged with him were executed but Clopton was released and went on to make his fortune.


    The tower is the only modern part of the church, being built in 1903. The original tower was destroyed by lightning around 1710 and was replaced by a second tower which was completed in 1725, the tower of 1903 replacing this.

The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, chancel, south chapel, lady chapel also to the south and north chapel. The church itself can be found to the north of the village, set back a little from the busy main road. The visitor approaches from the south; down a small lane, with the church in its full glory opening out!

Looking at the church from the south, the heavily buttressed west tower is beautifully produced, battlemented and pinnacled, with flag of St George hanging limply in this still December morning. The main building material here is flint, which has been knapped in to shape, and there are some fine flushwork designs which is where the knapped flint is enclosed within a stone frame, allowing the flint to form a pattern. A close look at the tower shows the whole thing looking crisp and new, which relatively speaking it is compared to the rest of the church.

The south porch appears a little battered and bruised next to the relatively new west tower alongside it; and contains several empty image niches, which would have held statues in pre reformation days.

As with Lavenham, the exterior here is a perpendicular delight. Nave flows seamlessly in to chancel with no fewer than 18 three light windows forming the clerestory. The delight for me though was the east end, with its fabulously detailed flushwork designs. Throughout the exterior is a frieze which has script on it which asks for prayers for the souls of those people who helped to contribute to the rebuilding of this church.


       The church was open to visitors; moving inside it was good to see a few people looking around enjoying the church. There must be many visitors here each day at the height of the tourist season. It was bright and welcoming inside, with the sun streaming in through the south windows.

As was seen on the exterior, nave runs seamlessly in to chancel, with no chancel arch. The nave arcades are of seven bays, with a further two bays in the chancel itself. There was a substantial Victorian restoration here and much of the fixtures and fittings in the chancel are from that restoration.

The east window of the chancel is of five lights and is of clear glass. A finely carved reredos dates to 1879 and depicts the crucifixion. Mary Magdalene, long hair flowing, is in her usual position at the foot of the cross, in distress. Mary the mother of Jesus stands to the left of the cross as we look at it, with John comforting her; this departing from the usual where John normally stands to the right of the cross as we look at it.  This reredos has on it the 10 Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

Against the south wall of the chancel is an elaborate monument to William Cordell who died in 1581. He was Speaker of the House of Commons under Mary I who was catholic and Master of the Rolls under protestant Elizabeth I which was no mean achievement in those times of religious upheaval and persecution. He lays recumbent, on a rolled up mat, dressed in armour, sword at his side and hands raised in prayer.


 The church here is probably most noted for the medieval stained glass in the north aisle. When the church was rebuilt in the late 15th century, every window here would have had stained glass. Much was destroyed during the reformation and much of the glass in the north aisle that we see today escaped destruction as it was high up, beyond the reach of the reformers. In more modern times, the glass was removed and safely reinstalled lower down.

To start with though, a quick look at some of the more modern glass. We have a depiction of the ascension, with the risen Christ, above the clouds, surrounding by a ring of fire; with the 11 disciples worshiping below. A three light window shows three scenes from Holy Week; the triumphal entry, Jesus at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of the arrest and the deposition, where Jesus’ body is taken down from the tomb. A further three light window details an angel of the Lord appearing to the three Mary’s on Easter morning, the risen Christ himself appearing to Mary Magdalene and John and Peter arriving at the empty tomb. John throws open his arms, a final moment of realisation ‘He saw and he believed’ reads the text across the bottom.

A depiction of the nativity shows a little poetic licence with shepherds and wise men together worshiping the baby Jesus; with above this the crucifixion. As with the detail on the reredos, John comforts Mary the mother of Jesus, who appears to have passed out. Mary Magdalene is inconsolable at the foot of the cross. A Roman soldier kneels, realising what they have done.


 Several of the medieval glass panels in the north aisle features the Clopton family, and others who were responsible for financing the rebuilding of this church. Male and female figures are represented, with all figures kneeling, with hands raised in prayer. The vast majority of the figures are depicted praying towards the east. Male figures are depicted in armour with female figures wearing wonderful long flowing gowns with elaborate head dresses.

 High up in the tracery of one window, a female figure appears to be carrying her own head, which would make this St Osyth. Underneath her image is a small Trinity Shield which explained the concept of the trinity. This consisted of four nodes marked Father, Son, Holy Spirit and God. These are connected by six lines which are labelled either ‘Is’ or ‘Is Not’. This gives the following explanation as to the nature of God..

"The Father is God"     "The Son is God"    "The Holy Spirit is God"    "God is the Father"  "God is the Son"    "God is the Holy Spirit"    "The Father is not the Son"    "The Father is not the Holy Spirit"    "The Son is not the Father"    "The Son is not the Holy Spirit"    "The Holy Spirit is not the Father"  "The Holy Spirit is not the Son"


   One figure, that of Elizabeth Talbot, is thought to have been the inspiration for the character of the Duchess in Alice In Wonderland. Possibly the most interesting thing in this series of windows is a tiny roundel, which I had to have help to find. It is of three hares. Each hare has two ears, but they have only three ears between them. This is seen as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

   Also worth noting is a depiction of the Virgin Mary with the crucified body of Jesus on her knee; a pieta. Tears stream down Mary's face as the beaten body of Jesus, still wearing the crown of thorns, appears to hold out a hand to her.

 Some windows are made up of fragments, with Christ emerging from the tomb and also wearing the crown of thorns. St Andrew carrying a saltire cross is flanked by a couple of archangels, one of whom is Gabriel. These give a tantalising glimpse of what would have been here before the reformers destroyed all that they thought was idolatrous, with the salvaged remains being reassembled at a later date.

    Still on the subject of glass, one small panel in the Clopton chantry chapel, at the far east of the church, is a very rare depiction of the crucifixion. Dating from 1350 this shows Christ crucified on to a cross made from while lilies. The lily was often used as a symbol of purity and was often pictured in scene containing the Virgin Mary.


    Still on the subject of glass, one small panel in the Clopton chantry chapel, at the far east of the church, is a very rare depiction of the crucifixion. Dating from 1350 this shows Christ crucified on to a cross made from while lilies. The lily was often used as a symbol of purity and was often pictured in scene containing the Virgin Mary.

   Finally moving away from stained glass, the eye was caught by a carving in the north aisle. This is the adoration on the Magi, carved in alabaster. Thought to date from around 1350, this was found buried underneath the chancel floor in the eighteenth century and it is suspected that it was buried there at the time of the reformation, in the hope of saving it from destruction, and in the hope that someone would one day find it.

    Some brasses remain, with carving of fine quality. The deceased are depicted with their loved ones, hands raised in prayer, with hands sometimes oversized as a symbol of piety. Some brasses here were sadly sold by the churchwardens in the seventeenth century to help pay for repairs to the roof.


The church grounds are large and well kept. There are some interesting gravestones but nothing of any great interest or rarity and nothing in the grounds has its own Grade II Listing. Several of the stones here feature the deaths head; a carving of a human skull which was designed, in symbol form, to remember that Man is mortal and will die. Therefore, live a good Christian life, trust in God as you did not know when your own time would come. In days of low life expectancy, it could be later than you think.

It was a joy to be back here again and to see the church in better lighting conditions than on my previous visit. As with Lavenham, this is an absolute must visit for anyone in the area. Simon Jenkins in his sometimes controversial book England’s Thousand Best Churches ranks the church of Holy Trinity very highly, being the only church in Suffolk to be awarded five stars, and one of 18 in the whole country to be given that high a rating.  It was time to move on, heading off five miles to the west to Cavendish; our Suffolk crawl continued.

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