St. Mary's Church, Woodbridge
"We are here for the glory of God; to be the body of Christ, broken and restored to reflect the Gospel in our lives."
Worship > Pew Sheet

15th July 2018 7th Sunday after Trinity


 Red Rose Day   

   What price one red rose? -  the ground-rent for the land occupied by our tower. Paid annually by the Parish at the Feast of the Nativity of St John Baptist (24 June), this defines the relation of landlord and tenant and secures the contract. This year, payment is Late:- is our tower at risk? -  although we expect to see the Rose presented one Sunday soon. This "peppercorn" rent (since such small items - and even socks! - are payable in some places) is not unique, but very rare. In former times, Red Rose rents, paid always at the Midsummer Quarter Day, were accompanied by the bonfires, torchlight processions and general junketings of the St John's Eve/Day festivities.

    Even more rare is our Church building itself - designed, constructed entirely during one period, on a totally new site; roughly SSW of the pre-existing parish church. "Old" St Mary's - probably ancient at Domesday; doubtless much patched and rebuilt - especially c.1193, when Ernald Rufus endowed his little priory alongside - remained, even in the 1400s, quite small.

     Meanwhile, well before the 15C, Woodbridge had become a Town - a port town - at the height of the wool trade and shipbuilding industries; and since sheep, well suited to the free-draining pastures about, give milk as well as wool, establishing a market in butter and cheese. It was growing in population and in wealth. It had Big Ideas. It approached the Prior for a grant of land, on which to build a grand new church.

     This suited all parties; the Austin Canons (4 - 6 secular priests, led by a prior; ministering and teaching in the area) would be left in sole possession of Old St Mary’s. The Vicar of the Parish would continue to be appointed from or by the Priory as Rector. The Parish was given a generous site in the lower half of the marketplace, the "gathering"-ground at the Priory gates. New St Mary's - huge, spacious, its lofty clerestory glowing like a lantern; a great Ark, come to rest on its hill - had taken up all the space allotted. For perfection, yet One Thing more was necessary - a bell tower!

     So - another approach to the Prior - and thus the Red Rose Rent; not simply seasonable but very apt here; the Rose being a symbol of Our Lady herself, and of England as "Mary's Dower".

      More remarkable, yet, is that - however repaired and restored - from its great tower, from its original roof down, and from end to end - we inherit the structure of St Mary's pretty much as the builders left it. By the mid-16 C, Old St Mary's was gone; the Priory dissolved - its site with its manors now the estate of a great country house. South of the chancel at New St Mary's, a further chapel had been added in costly, fashionable brickwork. Thomas Seckford matched it with another to the North, replete with Renaissance decoration and rich armorial glass. He would have seen - despite Prayer Book reorderings, and whitewash - much of St Mary's medieval splendour. He could not know that, within a generation, his own chapel would fall victim to the iconoclasm that smashed windows and font and tore the angels from the roof. Galleries in: galleries out...Later improvers, having previously used Thomas's chapel as a vestibule, jumbling his tomb to one side, punched a large (though elegant) arch through the North wall of the chancel - and put the organ in it. Necessary repairs and restorations could excuse arrant vandalism, cf.cutting panels from the surviving 15C Rood screen - some now in parlous state near the font. The rosy brick of the chancel-chapels was masked in flint and - a cheaper option - patent cement.

   Yet Thomas's coffin still lies in the vault he built, among later Seckfords (and sundry Carthews); including his niece-in-law, Dorothy. In 1672, she bequeathed to the Benefice the Greater (Rectorial) Tithes of the Manor of Woodbridge late Priory; thus making it a Rectory - and its Incumbent, the titular Prior - hence the Rector's Red Rose.

Penny Bird


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