St. John the Baptist, Wantisden

St. John the Baptist
Wantisden, Suffolk IP12 3PG

The Church of St. John the Baptist, Wantisden is a Grade I listed building in the United Kingdom. This parish church consists of a 14th century square tower and its chancel and nave built on 12th century walls (chancel was restored in the 1860s).

The Tower is one of only two in England made of coralline crag limestone. There are diagonal buttresses with Caen stone quoins to the West and a door between with a crowned headstop. Above the door is a Perpendicular window. There is a polygonal South bell stair and the small bell openings have decorated tracery. The top was open to the sky in 1960, but it was rebuilt without battlements in 1965. At the same time the bell was cast in London in 1776 was re-hung on a metal beam and in 1966 metal ladders were fixed to give access to the top two floors of the tower.

The exterior walls are of flint interspersed’ with fragments of tile and brick. The doorways and windows are of Caen stone. A North doorway of about 1300 was blocked in 1960. There is a Norman lancet in the north wall of the Chancel. Beyond it a change in the rubble pattern shows that the East end was extended around the beginning of the 14th century. The east window, the priest’s door and the windows on the South side are also of that period. Between 1972 and 1976 all the windows were repaired.

The south door is 12th century, decorated with a triangular or flat nutmeg motif and supported by colonettes.

The interior of the church is devoid of modern facilities such as electric light or heating and has an atmosphere of timelessness. In the Nave, the first item of interest is the Font, which is 11th century or possibly earlier, and is entirely built of small blocks of stone, with added late 12th century decorative work.

On the wall opposite the door is an indecipherable wall painting, most probably of St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers. It was the custom of medieval days to place his picture opposite the door so that wayfarers could look in, pray for protection and continue their journey. There are also visible two of the former five roundels enclosing Consecration Crosses, where the Bishop paused to anoint and bless the church in his original dedication of the new building.

The remains of the 15th century poppy head bench-ends are further down the church, much mutilated and patched, reputedly with old paneling from Wantisden Hall.

The Royal arms of George III of England hangs on the North wall, dated 1806.

The Norman Chancel Arch and Screen are a major feature of the church interior, pierced by a massive arch 6’5″ wide, and decorated with chevrons and roll moldings above single shafts. A niche for a statue was fitted on the left in the 14th or 15th century. Small apertures were cut later in the flanking walls to improve the view into the Chancel.

The Rood Loft Stairs in the south wall are much broken away. They had been bricked up, but were revealed by bomb blast during tank exercises in the Second World War. The siting of the upper doorway shows that the rood screen would have masked most of the Norman arc.

The Brass in front of the altar is a clear “black letter” inscription to Mary Wingfield, nee Hardwick, who died 28 November 1582 in “ye faith of Christ ” as she had lived “in ye trewe feare of God”. Mary was a daughter of John Hardwicke, Esq. of Derbyshire and Elizabeth Leeke, and sister of Bess Harwick (Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury). Mary’s husband Richard Wingfield, Esq. of Wantisden & Crowfield (ca.1525-1591), son of Sir Anthony Wingfield, MP KG PC and Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in the reign of Edward VI of England (died 15 August 1552), rebuilt and lived in Wantisden Hall.

On the south side is the early piscina with its fluted stone basin for cleansing the Chalice and Paten and a rudimentary oak credence shelf above which could well be the original. The surrounding stonework has been re-cut.

The Roof is original and untouched above the ceiling.

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