St Peters Church
Interior of St Peters Church, Palgrave.
A new web site has been setup for St Peters Church with lots of information. The services link above will continue to be updated. Site Link.
The word ‘church’ means a body of believers, but it also means the physical building within which Christians worship. This church is not just a museum or a work of art which reflects the concerns of our local rural community. It is a very beautiful, peaceful and holy space. Churches contain powerful messages about what Christians believe, and spiritual power is the essence of this church.
Churches are usually dedicated to a saint. Our patron saint is St Peter, although he doesn’t actually appear very often here! We know quite a lot about Peter. He is easily recognisable because he is usually depicted with a square face, round beard and a bald head. His symbols are keys, for the keys of heaven – remember he’s the one at the pearly gates, although we’re not sure why TWO keys! [Matthew 16:18]
He is also represented by a bishop’s mitre because Peter is considered as the first Bishop of Rome. Sometimes you may also see an inverted cross - Peter asked to be crucified upside down as he was not worthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus - a rock, a fish or a cockerel (check out the Bible!). Peter, the leader of Jesus’ twelve disciples, was both strong and headstrong. He and his brother Andrew were fisherman and we know that he was married, because he had a mother-in-law!
Churches are often in the shape of the cross on which Christ died, but ours is a traditional Saxon shape with a nave and no transept, and a Victorian north aisle. The chancel arch leads from the body of the church up to the sanctuary where the altar is. All members of the congregation are invited to approach the Lord’s Table and share in the meal or receive a blessing.
Palgrave had two churches described in the Domesday Book: probably a chapel at St John’s to the west of the parish and a Saxon church on this site. This was probably wooden at that time as the oldest part of St Peter’s are early 14th century (the Tower and Chancel arch). The first Rector, Petris de Pakefield, was appointed in 1316 and all the Rectors are recorded on a board near the north door.
Like most churches, ours faces east. It is built on high ground - probably on the site of a previous pagan religious site. The rising sun was important prior to Christianity and the ‘Adopt, Adapt, Improve’ strategy was used to incorporate pagan rites into English Christian worship. For instance, the yew trees in a churchyard were sacred even before the first Millennium.
Often yew trees in a churchyard are older than the church – they can predate Christ’s birth, although none of the trees at St Peter’s are that old. Marriages were conducted under these wise and knowledgeable trees, and ‘Treow’ - the root of the word ‘tree’ - gives us both ‘truth’ and ‘troth’. Yews were sacred to our ancestors and wisely incorporated into the new religion, especially as they keep cattle out – a classic example of British pragmatism!
We have no lych-gate here but the priest conducting a funeral would still have met the corpse (‘lic’ in Old English) at the gate, probably initially to fulfil legal requirements then later as a mark of respect.
The church is built of knapped flint, the tower is un-buttressed with ashlar quoining, probably 1290-1360. The tower does seem to be built of a collection of odd stones, possibly collected locally. The windows are in late 14th century style, although quite varied. The entrance is on the favoured south side, rather than the cold north side. Note the decoration around the door. Carvings include St George (or more likely St Michael) and the Dragon, two small lions and intricate and rather more local and personal carvings on the door frame. There is even a ‘Green Man’ carved into the surround, with his tongue sticking out in the traditional manner!
Church porches were the forerunner of village halls and had various functions including meeting room, schoolroom and courtroom. Ours has some pretty old benches. There was originally an upper floor and room above the porch, called the Parvis Chamber. The window and stairs up to it can still be seen. It may have been used as a schoolroom or storeroom for parish records. Marriages would have been conducted in the church porch before the happy couple were allowed to enter the main church for the nuptial mass. Cut down on the guest list, anyway. There are two figures guarding the inner door – perhaps King Edmund (good moustache!) and his Queen, or perhaps local worthies.
During medieval times, churches were brightly coloured and stuffed with statues, pictures and imagery which reflected the lives of the parishioners. From the heraldic devices that remain, the empty plinths outside the porch probably contained statues of St Peter, St Edmund and Christ before they were removed or destroyed. There were two great periods of destruction of the ancient Saxon and medieval icons. During the Reformation the parish churches (then of course all Roman Catholic) were stripped of their treasures and became simpler and plainer. In Cromwell’s time this process was repeated even more enthusiastically. Surprisingly, our font has intact noses on three of the four faces at the corners, probably the Gospel writers Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, but possibly the four Latin doctors: Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory. The font seems older than the church and has a limestone bowl. One theory about why the font is so eroded is that it may have been second-hand, or it may have been kept outside during the Reformation. The crosses are of a Saxon or Celtic design although the font is 11th or 12th century and therefore Norman.
The font is usually found at the back of the church near the entrance. Baptism is a cleansing and presentation sacrament which symbolises an entrance into the Church and the start of a journey of faith. Font covers have been compulsory since 1236, reputedly to prevent theft of Holy Water for use in magic, but more likely to prevent contamination. Good to see our churchwardens complying – note where there must have once been a hefty lock!
Before you go further, look up! There is a magnificent single hammerbeam roof which still has the original tracery and medieval painting, including Marian monograms and star patterning. No-one knows why it hasn’t faded like nearly all other such roofs. The beam ends probably had angels or saints originally – possibly removed to save Cromwell’s supporters the bother of going up there and desecrating the rest of it. Churches sometimes put in false roofs during that time to cover the real roof, but the angels had to be lopped off to allow the false roof to be suspended on the beams. A lower ceiling also kept the heat in!
There are many corbels nestling at the base of the beams – both people and animals. Local craftsmen could really vent their imagination on these figures. They are not gargoyles like the ones outside as they don’t ‘gargle’ rainwater.
This little chap is hidden behind the organ and was revealed for the first time in a century during the refurbishment of 2004 but to our disappointment he does not seem to be very interesting! The Royal Arms on the Tower arch is Victorian, and there is a Benefactors board nearby, recording the people who gave money towards the 1861 improvements.
The tower contains 8 bells which are hung for full circle ringing in a traditional English way. This is a rare treasure for a small tower. In 1553 there were 3 bells but these were replaced by 6 in 1737, and augmented to 8 in 1908 with a new frame built in the yard of George Day in Eye. They weigh between 3 and 7 cwt. The bells were fully refurbished in 1997, including new steel beams to save further stresses on the ancient timbers, and now ring very easily. The church clock has an electric mechanism and strikes on the hour by means of a separate hammer on the tenor bell.
The organ was built between 1907 and 1908 by the London firm of JW Walker and Sons, holders of the Royal Warrant. Our organ would have cost about £100,000 at 2004 prices! St Peter’s organ is a superb example of the small, beautifully crafted organs of the period which are simple and easy to play, with a small number of stops. However the original quality of the workmanship means that this organ will survive for centuries more whilst continuing to provide an outrageous quality of sound and the effects of an organ over twice its size. It was refurbished in 2004 thanks to the generosity of the village. The organ plays a vital role in the musical expression of the liturgy and its central situation in St Peter’s is important – come and hear the way it sounds at a wedding, or at Christmas.
The nave was built later than the tower and is 14th century apart from the north aisle which was completed in 1861.
Originally, there were no pews in churches. The early congregation had to stand – apart from the sick and old who were allowed to lean against the wall (hence ‘weakest to the wall’). Pews were usually installed along with pulpits around the 15th century, and our pews were replaced during the Victorian era, probably as a way of encouraging people to go to church more often! Some of the pews at the front have been removed to allow more space, which is greatly appreciated during school and family services.
On the north wall there is a painted triptych of the 10 commandments. These were given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai and used by Jesus in his teaching. The triptych was painted by Robert Rolfe who renovated the church in the 1960s. The only stained glass on the north side is the memorial to the Harrison family in the Sunday Club corner.
Our lectern stands on the left in common with most churches. It is relatively plain but the large Bible was presented in 1959 by friends of George Clarke, a former churchwarden who sang in St Peter’s choir for 50 years! The letters ‘IHS’ appear on the lectern, and IHS or IHC (together known as the Chismon) appear many times in the church and reflect the Greek spelling of ‘Jesus’, although other interpretations are common.
Approaching the sanctuary, the Chancel is as old as the tower and is early 14th century. The two stone structures may have been connected by a wooden building until the present nave was built. Even today the congregation is responsible for the upkeep of the nave, whereas the holder of the living (usually the Rector) is responsible for the chancel and sanctuary. The choir stalls have carved ends which are all plants found locally including holly, oak, corn and ivy. Holly, ivy and laurel are often represented in churches because they do not wilt or fade when cut – they remind us of God’s promise of everlasting life. The ivy motif is repeated around the altar rail.
The altar table is the place where the Eucharist (Lords Supper, Mass. Holy Communion) is celebrated. The bread and wine consecrated during the Eucharist represents the body and blood of Jesus, which He gave so that we may be saved from our sin. The altar reminds us of Jesus’ great sacrifice, but it is also the place where Christians come to share a meal together. Work done in 1987 revealed graves beneath the Holy Table, which is late Stuart.
The Millennium banner may be in church. It was created for the Year 2000 by parishioners across the North Hartismere Benefice and is unbelievably beautiful and symbolic. It tours around all the churches in our Benefice, here as well as Brome, Oakley, Stuston, Burgate and Wortham. Have a look at both sides!
The stained glass windows in the sanctuary are all brightly coloured. Colours have great significance, and the east window is usually designed to give a message of hope to believers. These windows reflect the rural nature of this parish, with floral motifs including grapes, lilies and little white flowers which may be daisies, or possibly columbine. Lilies represent immortality or beauty, and are usually associated with the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ. The Blessed Virgin Mary is more often depicted in Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches than Anglican, although coded symbols such as the lily, rose or pierced heart may be seen. Roses come in many forms – red for martyrdom or white for purity. The roses in our big east window are classic English Tudor roses, a blend of the symbols of the houses of York and Lancaster, and probably represent England rather than Mary.
Alpha and Omega also appear. They are the letters at the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet (obviously the first two are alpha-beta!). They therefore represent the eternity of God: the beginning and the end, Infinity. Threes also appear a lot in churches as a symbol of the trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is often represented as a dove descending – just like in this window. This is a Biblical reference from the gospels referring to Jesus’ baptism by John. This window also contains pictures of the bread and wine which are the core of Christian worship. All three windows in the sanctuary were the gifts of Reverend Charles Martyn and his wife Sarah in 1851. This Rector is buried in a vault near the altar. He was the principal benefactor of the 1861 building works, set up three charitable trusts which still contribute funds to the church and he also founded the present village school behind the church – quite a guy!
There are no images of the crucified Christ in our church. The cross that is placed on the altar during services is plain – the usual Anglican form and a powerful message that Christ has endured the cross and defeated death. This is the central message of Christianity – that Christ died to save our sins. We believe that Christ returned from the dead, and that He is still alive today. Although Christ’s death was quite remarkable, His resurrection means that we worship a living God.
The choir stalls, pulpit and reading desk are all 1861, and the carved oak credence table is 20th century.
Only one window, to the South, depicts a Biblical scene. In the outer panels are found symbols of the Gospel-writers and angels surrounded by vines and fruits. In the central panel Jesus is bringing Lazarus back to life after he has been dead for four days. There are both male and female figures; one may be Mary of Bethany or her sister Martha. The words that Jesus used are often used in the Christian funeral service ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ [John 11:25-26].
This episode is also famous for generating the shortest verse in the Bible – ‘Jesus wept’ [John 11:35]. Note that Christ appears with a cruciform halo, signifying his divinity and sacrifice.
The middle south window is modern and awe-inspiring. Designed by Surinder Hayes Warboys, and dedicated in 1995, it works on many levels. When the sun shines through this window in the morning services it speckles the congregation with colours. There is a detailed explanatory sheet on the window ledge.
There is a suit of armour above the porch door which allegedly belonged to a Parish Constable, preceding the Police Force. However there is some doubt that it is real armour: it may be mock plate associated with an old memorial. There are many other interesting memorials dotted around the church which bear close inspection (details on the table tennis bat near the south door!).
Finally do take a look around the churchyard. This is a closed churchyard administered by the Parish Council, and some of it is given over to a wildlife sanctuary because of the plants and birds found there. There are some interesting graves including the last resting place of a waggoner, and a printer. Graves face east, following the Jewish custom of facing the sun as a sign of hope, but also because it is expected Jesus will appear to the east and His followers will therefore be facing Him.
People preferred to be buried on the south but our church sits in the middle of the churchyard. However, the southern preference means that the land is higher on the south side because there has been greater displacement of earth over the years, especially near the church wall. The small piscina near the pulpit, once used for cleansing the Communion cup, would have drained into this area.
Sanctuary was generally granted once inside the grounds of a churchyard although sadly it was abolished some time ago!