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St Nicholas, Woodrising
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It was getting late in the day. We'd had the benefit of the first really lovely day of the year, a bright and crisp combination of sunshine and frost. But now the sun was low in the sky, sending long shadows as if the gleaming tops of buildings were peeping from a grey fog. And so we came to Woodrising.
I wondered if the ruin of the tower, as charming as it is, might give an indication of the inside of the church, but this was not the case at all. St Nicholas inside is a delight. The slanting light played across venerable oak and creamy stone, picking out the brass of the candelabras. A play of light and shadow on the south arcade and chancel arch created a sense of unfolding spaces, of rooms opening off each other, a chiaroscuro effect.
As Mortlock observes, there is a most agreeable lack of symmetry. The west end of the church is taken up by a narrow gallery, and at the top is one of East Anglia's six surviving church barrel organs. The benches are understated 19th century attempts at late medieval. It is a well-kept yet slightly ramshackle interior, a collection of bits and pieces from every century that give St Nicholas a character all of its own. I liked it a lot. I couldn't think of another church quite like it, and it has stuck in my memory since.
If the Southwells are remembered at all today, however, it is only because of Sir Richard's grandson Robert, who was a Saint - quite literally. While at Cambridge University, Robert was received back into the Catholic faith that his grandfather had renounced, and went off to the continent to train for the Priesthood. Returning to England a Jesuit Priest, he was considered fair game for the authorities, despite his noble birth. In 1594 he was captured, tortured and interrogated.
Howards and the Southwells intermarried, despite Sir
Richard's betrayal. A brass inscription in the sanctuary
remembers Robert Southwell's uncle, another Robert, who
was also the son of Henry Howard's sister Elizabeth. It
must have seemed a very small world.
Simon Knott, January 2006
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