St. John the Baptist, Lound

When the late Sir John Betjeman made a film for the B.B.C. on East Anglian Churches Lound was prominent amongst those that he included. Widely known to visitors as the “Golden Church” its fame originated with the devoted generosity of a past rector, Father Booth Lynes (1908-17) and the genius of Sir Ninian Comper, whom he employed to beautify his church.

Yet when David Elisha Davy, the Suffolk antiquarian, visited Lound in 1827 and 1832 he found little that was remarkable. The ROUND TOWER, early Norman in origin but probably rebuilt and carried up to its present 57 feet in the Fourteenth Century, was common enough in this part of Norfolk and Suffolk, if rarely found elsewhere.

There was a NAVE, with plain Early English windows, which had been enlarged in the Thirteenth Century, a CHANCEL that was contemporary with the rebuilding of the tower and a SOUTH PORCH with flushwork panelling of much the same date. Though the Decorated EAST WINDOW now displays delicate tracery the tower and chancel ARCHES are plain upon the corbels that carry them and what passes for a WEST WINDOW is a small and unadorned lancet in the tower. All is simple to the point of severity.

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Unpretentious though it was, the medieval building has much to tell us of the deep piety of our ancestors. When they entered the porch there was a niche above the square headed arch and its spandrels and this would have contained an image of S. John the Baptist, their patron. Just inside the church was and is the usual HOLY WATER STOUP by which they and we kneel and cross ourselves in remembrance of our baptism. Immediately facing them was the FONT itself. The first one to stand there was Norman and its bowl survives as a base for the pulpit. The present beautiful Perpendicular example is of a type traditional to East Anglia. The bowl is octagonal and supported by four demi-angels (alas, now decapitated) that carry shields and alternate with the symbols of the four evangelists. The shaft rises between buttresses and lions sejant and rests, though somewhat askew, upon the earlier base. In 1389 Robert Bertelot (not John as recorded on a board on the west wall) made his will. For the past twelve years he had been the rector and now he directed that he be buried in the chancel that he had started to rebuild and asked his executors to continue. One of these was his brother John, from Snetterton, who succeeded him at Lound as the parish priest. In his turn he presented the church with a new font at the foot of which was placed an inscription that is still legible. “Orate pro anima domini Johannis Bertelot rectoris ecclesiae de Lound qui fecit fieri hunc fontem baptismalem” (Pray for the soul of Sir John Bertelot, rector of the church of Lound who caused this font to be).

The focal point for the devotion of the faithful was the altar. At least one of these was immediately visible. This was the present LADY ALTAR, the position of its predecessor marked by the simple medieval PISCINA that was found embedded in the south wall of the nave. The HIGH ALTAR and the rest of the chancel were separated from the body of the church by the ROOD SCREEN. This had been put up in the late Fourteenth Century or possibly slightly later. From the extensive restoration by Comper we can select the ogee arches with their pretty mouchette tracery as being both very fine and original. In the north wall of the nave close to the pulpit is the door to a stairway replacing the one that led up to the ROOD LOFT, from which it was the custom to read the Gospel.

The High Altar was attended by its own PISCINA for the washing of the sacred vessels. This was appropriately finer than the one in the nave and is still in excellent condition. Dating from the Fifteenth Century it was placed under its ogee headed and shafted canopy in a splay of the south east window, the sill of which formed a triple graded SEDILIA for priest, deacon and sub-deacon.

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All these features could have been found in any medieval parish church. There is however another that appears to be uniquely shared by Lound and her sister at Blundeston. In the west wall of the nave to the north of the tower is a curious circular hole 51⁄4 inches in diameter. This must have been a SQUINT, put there either to command a view of the altar from outside or, from inside, of the approach from the village. These squints usually led directly into the chancel and nowhere else do we hear of them piercing this wall of the nave.

One last item, on the exterior, has now almost weathered away. On the buttress east of the priest’s door that gave him access to his chancel on the south of the church are the remains of a SCRATCH DIAL that helped to make him punctual in the performance of his duties.

A great deal was certainly swept away at the Reformation, much that was to be brought back by Booth Lynes. The Reformers contributed a Seventeenth Century COMMUNION TABLE in place of the old stone altar, as well as a Jacobean PULPIT. The first has itself now been relegated to its present position by the north door. In 1730 the present three BELLS, made by Thomas Newman of Norwich, were placed in the tower when John Kett and William Ellis were churchwardens.

Suckling in 1847 had noted that the nave roof was open to an ugly covering of thatch. In 1856 the church was repaired and re-roofed. The Venerable John Gibson, patron and rector, restored the chancel in 1875, and in 1893 the principal land-owner, the first Lord Somerleyton, restored and re-seated the nave. But the best was yet to come. Until 1893, apart from the restrained glass of 1875 in the EAST WINDOW, the church stood like an empty jewel case waiting to be filled. A prelude to the coming transformation was provided by the two SIDE WINDOWS of the CHANCEL, the north in 1893 and the south in 1904.

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These are the work of Henry Holiday, a celebrated Pre-Raphaelite painter and one of the best Victorian artists in stained glass. He was then at the height of his powers and the north window is a particularly fine example of his craftsmanship.

A standard had now been set. In 1912 Father Lynes set about returning his church to an approximation of its medieval splendour and for three years a succession of exquisite furnishings was added to the interior. Almost entirely at his own expense he employed Ninian Comper, the most distinguished designer in this field at that time. Much of the credit for what was achieved must also go to H. A. Bernard Smith, who painted and gilded the woodwork under Comper’s direction.

Obvious priority was given to the HIGH ALTAR which was raised on new flooring. Richly decorated posts surmounted by gilded bronze angels bearing torches supported CURTAINS of Spanish silk dyed to the exact shade of deep pink upon which Comper always insisted. In the centre of the dorsal, or rear curtain, is the figure of Our Lord flanked by the two Johns as He blesses His people. To the left the Baptist carries his flag and is further identified by a scroll carrying the words: “Ecce Agnus Dei” (Behold the Lamb of God). To the right the Evangelist holds a chalice and is recognised by the inscription: “In Principie Erat Verbum” (In the beginning was the Word). The Sisters of Bethany, in their embroidery, interspersed the whole with pineapples and golden arabesques. No honour was too great to be paid to the place where at each daily Mass bread and wine became, and still becomes, the Body and Blood of Christ and where the Sacrament was subsequently and is still reserved.

Comper now turned to the mutilated medieval FONT. A gilded and buttressed cover surmounted by a crocketed steeple was suspended from a decorated beam above and a hoist was supplied for raising and lowering. The four blank shields were painted with the symbols of the Passion (E.) and the Trinity (W.). Emblazoning the arms of Despencer (N.) and Bartlett (for Bertelot) (S.) was historically more daring. The first was for the fighting Bishop of Norwich (from a family that was more recently to produce Winston Churchill and Princess Diana of Wales) who was Bertelot’s diocesan. It is doubtful whether they would have been placed there in the time of the bishop and priest.

In 1913, Bishop Pollock of Norwich, Despencer’s successor, paid an almost stealthy visit to Lound. Whatever his reactions, and he was no High Churchman, the work continued. A traditional S. CHRISTOPHER was painted on the north wall directly opposite the south door where in the Middle Ages it could comfort the departing traveller. To the usual fish in the water and man on horseback Comper wittily added himself driving his Rolls-Royce. When the mural was restored in 1964 a further modern note was struck with the inclusion of an aircraft. Otherwise the group follows medieval examples such as the one at Molesworth in Huntingdonshire.

Now it was the turn of Comper’s truly memorable ROOD SCREEN. He depicted the Rood or crucifix as a Tree of Glory from which Our Lord reigns as on a throne, the limbs of the cross terminating in the customary symbols of the evangelists. As ever the Crucified is attended by the Blessed Virgin and the Beloved Disciple, who are in turn flanked by six-winged cherubim. Beneath the Cross are two dragons, emblems of evil, that it effectively crushes, while at the foot a Pelican in Piety feeds her young with her own blood as the Church feeds her people in the Blessed Sacrament. The Lamb and Flag, emblems of the Baptist, appear on the vaulting below.

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Comper shared the medieval love of heraldry and placed on the screen (from N. to S.) the arms of Gibson (the then patrons), of the Diocese, of Edward III (who was on the throne when much of the church was built), of Bishop Pollock and of the Lynes family. On the doors of the screen are the arms of George V (N.) and of Queen Mary (S.) who were reigning as it was restored. Their crowned and gilded initials, G. and M., appear to the left and right, supported by angels and flanked by decorative sea-creatures.

At the south end of the screen is the ALTAR OF OUR LADY. The projection to the north carries the arms of Father Lynes and the inscription: “Orate pro bono statu Booth Lynes Rectoris Ecclesiae Lound” (Pray for the welfare of Booth Lynes, Rector of the Church of Lound). A decorated post at the end supports a figure of the Angel of the Annunciation holding Our Lady’s shield of lilies. The blue FRONTAL is decorated with golden Stars, fleurs-de-lys and arabesques that surround the lilies that are the emblems of Her purity. This was embroidered in 1914 by Miss Bucknall and delicately restored in 1980 using old threads. Further restoration was carried out to this frontal and to the High Altar Comper frontal by Lindsay Blackmore in the year 2000. Above the lady altar on richly gilded gesso backgrounds are S. Mary Salome (with her son, John the Evangelist), the Blessed Virgin Mary, crowned and holding Her Holy Child in Her arms and S. Elizabeth (with her son, John the Baptist).

The final addition of 1913 was the splendid ORGAN CASE at the west end of the church. Here gothic and baroque elements are combined in what Comper called “unity by inclusion”. The inscription is adapted from Psalm 150 “Laudate Dominum sono tubae. Laudate eum in chordis et organo. Laudate eum in cymbalis bene sonantibus. Omnis spiritus laudet Dominum, Alleluia” (Praise the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Praise Him with strings and the organ. Praise Him with sweet sounding cymbals. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.) The organ itself is by Harrison and Harrison of Durham. A full restoration of the organ’s pneumatic action was carried out in 1995 by Richard Bower and more recently further work to improve the action was carried out by W & A Boggis, Organ Builders of Diss in Norfolk.

By 1914 it would have seemed that Comper’s work was finished, but his last commission was one that he could not then have anticipated. That same year the world was at war and at its conclusion he was asked in 1920 to design the Crucifix on the exterior of the south wall of the nave that was the VILLAGE MEMORIAL to the fallen.

All of Comper’s artwork was carefully cleaned and where necessary beautifully restored in 2006. This work was carried out by the well known Artist and Conservator, Pauline Plummer and her team of helpers.

Within the church are also STATUES to Our Lady of Sorrows (behind the pulpit), St. John the Baptist (in the middle window of the north wall of the nave) and St. Francis (opposite). There are also, on the north side of the church, two pieces of heraldic GLASS, one of the arms of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich, the other as yet unidentified. Opposite are some fragments of medieval glass. The most recent addition to the riches of the church are the outer PORCH DOORS. These were presented in 1966 and bear the arms of (E.) Bromholm Priory in Norfolk (to which the donor has a special devotion) and (W.) of the Paston family, who were the patrons of the priory.

Before you leave the church by these same doors, of your charity say a prayer for the priest and people of this parish. Perhaps when you are outside you might care to look back at the TOWER, the oldest part of the church. When a stair turret was built in walls that were under four feet in thickness the result was an instability that was not fully corrected by the two triangular buttresses at its base or the five, tie-rods that were once put in to hold the tower together. However, extensive work was carried out in 1985 to stabilize the tower. The cracks were stitched using layers of stainless steel mesh and the whole tower was repointed. This approach has thus far proved successful. Fragments of carved Norman masonry may also be discerned. The sheer unaffected simplicity of such an ancient monument, without battlements and with the humblest of apertures, the round headed west window of early brick and, in the belfry, four that are Decorated and double light, calls for our care.

We started with a modern poet – we shall end with one from the Eighteenth Century. Thomas Gray was a friend of the rector of Lound and visited him here. If he had not known Stoke Poges would this churchyard have inspired him to write a famous Elegy? Certainly many who “Along the cool sequester’d vale of life … kept the noiseless tenor of their way” lie here in the shade of the “Golden Church”, awaiting the fulfilment of the promise of eternal glory that had been made to them within its walls.

A.F.B. & B.E.N.
(Updated 2011 C.J.)

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