The Church of St Edmund: King and Martyr: Southwold

Edmund became King of East Anglia in AD 856, at the age of fifteen. The Danes were beginning to ravage the area and Edmund fought them bravely until he was defeated in 869 or 870. According to one version of the story, he hid under a bridge to escape from the Danes but was given away by a bride on the way to her wedding after she spotted the glint of the sun on his spurs. He was taken prisoner and the Danes said he could remain King but under the Viking over-lordship. He refused, so was tied to a tree, scourged, shot through with arrows and then beheaded. According to legend, Edmund’s followers seeking him, heard the cries, “Here, here” and they found a wolf guarding his head. This was taken to Beodricsworth, now Bury St Edmunds where a great Benedictine Abbey built in the 11th and 12th centuries houses his shrine. Edmund was regarded as England’s patron saint until being replaced by St George in the late Middle Ages.

The first church on this site was built around 1200, but the building we see today was built over the top of the old foundations in around the 1400’s. It appears this really was a church of the people as numerous bequests are left to the furnishing of the church in local people’s wills around the mid 1400’s. In those days such acts of giving to churches, or the construction of roads or bridges was also seen very much as “paving” their own smoother path into heaven.

During the Reformation much internal damage was done, as Southwold Church fell under William Dowsing, the notorious iconoclast, who was zealous in his destruction of all “monuments of idolatry and superstition”, but by the 1850’s people started to restore the internal church and once again create a place of beauty and colour as much as they could.

I got to the church just as the attendant was preparing to shut the doors to the day, but a big smile and plea from me worked and he let me in for “15” minutes maximum! Southwold sits right on the coast and was largely a fishing town, but around 1200 was actually still an island in the mouth of the River Blyth, where fishermen would spread their nets to repair and dry. The church is imposing and can be seen from virtually every part of the town. The view here shows the amazing copper roof, which stretches just over 40 metres over both nave and chancel.

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This is the South Porch, [below] the area all round this was badly damaged by bomb damage in the Second World War. The monograms MR which include all the letters MARIA suggest an effigy of Our Lady. The windows in the upper portion of the porch, look out from a room which would have housed a priest.

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The font [below] is a great example of the elaborate fonts made in the late Middle Ages, more commonly found in Norfolk than elsewhere. Originally the panels which are now empty spaces on these fonts would have shown the seven sacraments:baptism, confirmation, mass, penance, extreme unction, ordination and matrimony. at 24 feet high, this is said to be the tallest in the country. Here is a closer shot, if you double click on any of my photos, you can zoom in to get much better detail.

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More in the next post.

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