This is the church of the Holy Trinity at Blythburgh. Often described as the Cathedral of the marshes, it can be seen for miles above the flat, sodden land over which it surveys. To behold this church is to see one of the purest examples of medieval architecture in Britain.
Built in the early 15th century, the church incorporated an earlier 14th century tower. The building of the church relied on local donors of no great wealth, and the parish was already in decline when this work was undertaken. For this reason, the sheer size of the church seems an untenably vast space for a population of only five hundred.
Blythburgh, like nearly every medieval church in England, also suffered under the strictures imposed during the Reformation. Under the edict of Henry VIII its priory was stripped of its resources and the church was left without sufficient funding for its maintenance.The wealth of the village was also in decline, the river Blyth had silted up, meaning only small barges could attempt a journey to and from the coast.
A storm in 1577 had struck the church during communion sending the spire tumbling down into the congregation, killing two and injuring many more. This was considered to be an act of the Devil, and even today you can see the dark marks on the door, supposedly where the Devil burnt it on his escape.
The Holy Trinity was also inspected in 1644 by the puritan iconoclast William Dowsing, although some might say in a rather halfhearted manner, for if you are to look up, you are immediately struck by a ceiling of angels, the very same angels for which Dowsing granted only 8 days to be taken down.
Dowsing was also confronted by twenty superstitious pictures in the stained glass, all of which were destroyed under his orders, the remnants today glinting like jewels in the clear, 17th century leaded glass. Once the windows were devoid of any popery, it seems that those responsible for these reforms didn’t carry out his instructions further.
A few decades later, in 1679 a fire ravaged the town, destroying many of the timber framed houses. Fortunately a few surviving examples have been restored:
This series of events led to a dwindling population at Blythburgh and the church was left neglected and empty by 1880; it’s cavernous nave slowly filling with brambles and ivy.
It was William Morris and his Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings who stepped in, sensitively restoring the church back to the space we see today. It is a church filled with natural light, the enormous windows connecting the church to the glittering marshes beyond, the reflection of which dances across the whitewashed walls.