A country church with a thatched roof

SNAPE MALTINGS ON Suffolk’s River Alde is a famous venue for music (mainly) and the other arts. It is the home of the Aldeburgh Festival, started in 1948 by the composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and his partner, the singer Peter Pears (1910-1986). We have yet to attend a concert there, but we have eaten a fine lunch in its beautifully designed River View eatery. From the Maltings, you can enjoy views across the water meadows and if you look carefully enough, you can spot the tower of the Church of St Botolph in the tiny village of Iken across the river.

St Botolph, who died in about 680, is believed to have brought Christianity to Iken in about 654. He is the patron saint of boundaries, and, because of this, also of trade and travel. The present church dedicated to him is curious because its nave has a thatched roof. It was preceded by a minster built by Botolph but destroyed by the Danes in the 9th century. In 870, a Saxon timber church was constructed. This has also gone. It was replaced by a stone edifice, the beginning of what we can see today.

The Norman flint-rubble nave of the current church was built between about 1070 and 1110. The western tower, also with flint and other masonry was constructed soon after Robert Geldeny and William Baldwyn bequeathed money for its construction in 1450 and 1456 respectively. During the Reformation in the 16th century, various changes were made to the church’s interior to conform with the restrained liturgical requirements of the Reformed Church. This would have included whitewashing over colourful frescoes and destruction of stained glass and other decorative features.  By the 19th century, the church was becoming somewhat dilapidated. Between 1850 and 1860, restoration works were undertaken. A new chancel was constructed in the style of the early 14th century on the foundations of the original mediaeval chancel. It was designed by John Whichcord (1790-1860) of Maidstone in Kent.

In 1942, during WW2, the whole of the population of Iken was evacuated so that the area could be used for battle training. The church was also closed. It reopened in 1947 after the villagers returned to Iken. During the 1950s, they did much work to improve the condition of their church. In 1968, sparks from timber being burnt nearby set fire to the thatched roof of the church. The nave was badly damaged, but the chancel survived. Today, visitors to the church would not be able to imagine that it had suffered such a conflagration, so well has it been repaired.

Inside the church, several things attracted my attention. The most fascinating is the Saxon cross shaft in the northwest corner of the nave. Covered with bas-relief Celtic-style carvings this 4 ½ foot fragment of a stone cross (possibly, originally 9 feet in length) was created either in the 9th or 10th century. Near to this, there is a lovely octagonal stone font, which is 15th century. It is covered with superb carvings, some of which depict the emblems of the four Evangelists. These are separated from each other by angels. The wooden altar reredos, a panel behind the altar, was carved by Harry Brown of Ipswich and dedicated in 1959. It bears a bas-relief of The Last Supper, which Mr Brown based on the famous painting of that occasion by Leonardo da Vinci. I have mentioned a few of the items within the church that I found interesting but there is plenty more to see, all listed in an informative booklet on sale in the church.

From the boundary of the graveyard surrounding this lovely church, you can catch glimpses of the River Alde, which flows nearby. Visitors to Snape Maltings should spare some time to visit the church at Iken. It is so nearby yet feels so far away.

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