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St Bartholomew, Sloley
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The north aisle is on the site of the original Norman church. The tower was built at its west end in the early part of the 14th century, and then the Black Death intervened. A century later, a vast clerestoried new church was built to the south of the old one, which was then demolished, and replaced with a new north aisle beyond an arcade. Finally, on the eve of the Reformation, a south aisle was added.
In the early part of the 19th century, St Bartholomew was refurnished, probably before the major restoration. The furnishings were considered good enough by the Victorians to remain, and so we are left with a good example of a pre-Tractarian plain and simple evangelical interior.
One of the remarkable things about Sloley font is its condition. It has been carefully repaired, but not much recut. No font I know has such characterful figures, such apparent movement. Simply, the people on the Sloley font look alive.The extra panel, facing east, is the Baptism of Christ. Look at the expression on the bearded Christ's face as the water is poured over him! Heading clockwise from the east, the panels represent ordination, matrimony (a deacon performing the ceremony), baptism (the infant about to be totally immersed), Mass (an odd one - the most repaired. Did the Priest originally face towards the altar?), confirmation (of a group of children, including infants), confession (in a shriving pew) and last rites, with quite a crowd around the bed!
Almost every panel has a figure or two that delights, so full of character they are. I've presented some as details below the panels. Click on the images to see them enlarged.
The font is the star of the show, but there is some good early 20th century glass in the west window, and an inlay for a chalice brass in the south aisle. And, like all the churches in the Worstead benefice, Sloley is open every day. Also in common with the others, there is a second-hand bookstall at the back of the church. I don't know why, but Sloley's is by far the best; I spent nearly as much time sorting through the books as I did examining the font, and couldn't resist buying half a dozen, which was a little awkward as I was on my bike. During the course of the day I would be unable to resist buying a few elsewhere as well, returning to Ipswich that evening somewhat laden down.
In the early spring sunshine I sat outside on the bench and ate the sausage rolls I'd bought from the bakers on Norwich station, thinking to myself that there was nowhere on Earth I would rather be, for the moment at least.
Simon Knott, May 2005
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