Letter from Felixstowe: Spring in St Elthelbert’s Churchyard

View of River Deben estuary from St Ethelbert’s churchyard, Suffolk

View of River Deben estuary from St Ethelbert’s churchyard, Suffolk

England’s small medieval churches always move me, sometimes more than great cathedrals.

Earlier this week, when Clive and I were out doing a few errands, we detoured to St Ethelbert’s church in Falkenham, a few minutes’ drive from Felixstowe.

This church grabbed my attention and my heartstrings when I saw it for the first time, seven or eight years ago. We were visiting from Australia, went for a walk in the area, and spotted the tower and pathway leading to the church.

Path to St Ethelbert’s

Path to St Ethelbert’s

At the end of the path is the unassuming churchyard, shaded by lime and sycamore trees, the arched front doors of the church and the 15th century flint and stone tower.

St Ethelbert’s front churchyard

St Ethelbert’s front churchyard

The view along the side of the church offers a glimpse of the Suffolk marshes and River Deben beyond.

South side of St Ethelbert’s with marshes & river in distance

South side of St Ethelbert’s with marshes & river in distance

Clive checking out the side doors, St Ethelbert’s

Clive checking out the side doors, St Ethelbert’s

According to the church’s ‘History and Guide’ brochure, St Ethelbert was the Saxon King of the East Angles, murdered by the pagan King Offa of Mercia in 794. The church’s earliest visible work dates from the late 1300s and early 1400s.

Apparently many rural Suffolk churches with medieval roots, including this one, were gradually modernised, especially during the Victorian era. The beautifully-maintained interior of St Ethelbert’s is cool and light-filled, with a list of recorded vicars from 1307 and a striking hammerbeam roof dating from about 1510.

Nave and single hammerbeam roof, St Ethelbert’s

Nave and single hammerbeam roof, St Ethelbert’s

St Ethelbert’s sanctuary

St Ethelbert’s sanctuary

We stepped back out through the curving west doors, into the churchyard and once more around to the sweeping view of Suffolk skies, marshes, and low hills across the river.

Stepping back outside, St Ethelbert’s

Stepping back outside, St Ethelbert’s

North side of St Ethelbert’s

North side of St Ethelbert’s

Perhaps because we’ve been moving around so much in our recent travels, we were drawn this week to return to this special place. I love its small size, its humility – no ‘airs and graces’ to be found here, just inspiring natural and man-made beauty – its stunning Suffolk setting and its sense of timeliness and tranquillity.

As I’ve written before, the God I believe in is available everywhere. But somehow in an ancient English churchyard, for me there is a special peace and connection to the Divine.

River Deben estuary from St Ethelbert’s churchyard

River Deben estuary from St Ethelbert’s churchyard

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

4 Responses

  1. Such lovely and peaceful pictures. I especially like the second one from the top. I’m saddened this week because my mother is doing very poorly, and my long time friend here in town who has ALS has had to decide whether to live tethered to a respirator or not use it and likely complete her life. My mother simply has no more will to live. Your photos reflect both the simplicity and permanence of faith.

    –Eleanor

  2. Hi Carolyn and Clive,
    How are you both doing? I just simply adored this. This is a type of place to be quietly felt… and yes, photographed. Great photos, Carolyn.
    Thank you for sharing xox

  3. How fortunate you are to have such a lovely and peaceful place so close to home. I loved the pictures, and can identify with your attraction to it.

  4. Eleanor, so sorry about your mom and friend — keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers. Your mom is one of the world’s most wonderful people and one of my mom’s dearest friends.

    Barb, we are fine thanks — hope you and Didier are, too! Next Paris must meet for coffee 🙂

    Mary — we are fortunate indeed. Now you just have to come back across the Pond so we can take you there in person.

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