Once the wealthy wool merchants of Lavenham had built themselves the fine houses we looked at in my last post they turned their attention to other matters. Medieval Christians strongly believed that when they died they would spend time in purgatory atoning for their earthly sins before they would be allowed into heaven. However this period could be shortened by doing good deeds. That was the reasoning behind the religious guilds which helped others in their time of need. It also inspired a great wave of church building wherever their was money to spare.
The building, or rather re-building, began in 1486 and was finished by 1525. By the time they'd done there was little left to see of the earlier building which was consumed by the grandiose reconstruction. It's really too big for the size of the town and its tower, at 141 feet (43 metres) is the highest of any village church in England. It could almost be a cathedral. Similar huge churches are to be seen throughout this area, all built with proceeds from the wool trade and called "wool churches". The importance of wool is remembered in the church kneelers..
In contrast to Lavenham itself which, as you've seen in my last post, is full of variety, eccentricity and downright quirkiness, the church's architecture is all elegance, balance and perfection. As such it stands rather cool and aloof above the bustle and energy of the the town which gave birth to it. But as a monument to the late Perpendicular style it is without equal.
The tower was probably the work of master mason John Clerk while the rest of the church was designed and built by John Wastell who also was responsible for Great St Mary's in Cambridge and St Mary's in Saffron Walden which bear many similarities.
Virtually all of the memorial brasses have been removed from the church, not by Reformation zeal but rather by the greed of eighteenth-century metal thieves - there's nothing new in this world! The tiny brass above has been spared either through lack of value or perhaps due to a soft-hearted felon. Why do I say this? Because it commemorates the brief life of Clopton, (the son of Sir Symonds D'Ewes), who departed this life in 1631 at the age of just 10 days. If you look closely you'll see that the brass depicts the baby in swaddling clothes. There is also a fine carved screen, a memorial to the builders of the church.
The east window has a fine stained-glass depiction of the crucifixion. Flanking Christ are The Virgin Mary and St John, and on either side of them are St Peter and St Paul after whom the church is named. St Peter (left) carrying a key and St Paul a sword.
A story is sometimes told that John de Vere, the lord of the manor, was a supporter of Henry, Earl of Richmond, in his dispute with Richard III. After Richard's defeat, at the Battle of Bosworth, de Vere suggested to the townspeople that they might like to rebuild the church in celebration. "Jolly good idea!" they all said and so the present church was built. All sounds a bit far-fetched to me.
Now I'm off to have another look around the village/town and maybe I'll pop into the Guildhall and see what happens in there these days.