the church and hoxne

Early Christianity in East Anglia

The christian church and hoxne have been inextricably linked for over 1200 years.

 

Following the defeat of the East Anglican King Edmund in 869, the Danes proceeded to burn down many churches and re-introduced pagan religion. As few could read or write outside of the church, the majority of the historical documents from this period went up in smoke with the churches.

 

Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ( Ecclesiastical History of the English People) written in 731 is one of the surviving manuscripts. He begins his history of christianity in East Anglia with the conversion to christianity of King Raedwald in about 616. However, within a decade he had abandoned his faith. In 630 King Sigeberht came to the throne and with the help of the Bishop of Burgundy established a see at Dommoc. The location of Dommoc is unknown but was probably Dunwich or Felixstowe.

 

In about 673, it appears the see was divided into two. The second see was at Elmham Bede does not specify whether it was North Elmham [in Norfolk] or South Elmham [in Suffolk]. However, we know from both the will of Theodredus c.950 (that he was Bishop of both a see at London and at Hoxne) and the Domesday Book 1086 (which describes Hoxne as having ecclesia sedes episcopatus de suffolk [a church which was the episcopal seat for Suffolk]) that Hoxne was the location of the see in Suffolk. As South Elmham is only 7 miles from Hoxne, it is unlikely that it was the place of the original second East Anglia see. Therefore, the second East Anglican see would appear to have been at North Elmham.

 

The next mention of Hoxne is in c.1101 in the charter for the Norwich cathedral priory where Bishop Herbert de Losinga gives Hoxne church was to the Norwich priory as part of its endowment. In the charter, Hoxne is referred to as "Hoxne with the chapel of St Edmund, where the martyr was killed".

 

The Church and Hoxne

At the top of the hill overlooking the village stands the church, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, of flint with stone dressings and a massive embattled tower nearly 100ft high with five bells and a clock - probably on the same site as the Church of St Ethelbert referred to by Bishop Theodred of London, who revived Christianity in East Anglia after the Danish invasion of the ninth century. In his will (signatures occur 926 to 951) he declares: "I grant the estates at Horham and at Athelington to God's community at St Ethelbert's Church at Hoxne".

The Domesday Book - 1086, states: "In this manor (Hoxne) there is a church, the seat of the Bishopric" - indicating that from very early times the Bishops responsible for East Anglia had a palace or manor house in the parish where they held courts. The coats of arms of many of the Bishops who visited Hoxne during those early years are  shown on a display screen in the church. The east face of the font has the arms of Bishop Lyhart of Norwich (1446 to 1472), who often resided at his palace at Hoxne, the site of which was probably the same as that of Hoxne Hall - later called Oakley Park - which was demolished in 1923-24. Bishop Lyhart died there on Whit Sunday, 1472. It was he who built the Hoxne Vicarage.

An early mention of the change in dedication of Hoxne parish church, comes in the Charter of Norwich Cathedral (1119) in which Bishop Herbert de Losinga gave "the church of Saint Peter at Hoxne with the Chapel of Saint Edmund" to the cathedral.

Although parts of the church building are earlier, most is in the perpendicular style dating between 1350 and the end of the 15th century. The tower was built by the second Duke of Suffolk, John de la Pole, in 1450 with the south porch being added in the same year.

Two tie beams fitted into the north aisle in 1621 show that the walls of the building have tended to move - a view supported by a number of buttresses on the north aisle. The chancel was rebuilt in 1853 following renovations to the tower in 1847.

Among the many features to be seen in the church are a series of paintings - dated between 1390 and 1400 - on the north wall of the nave and above the six rather low arches. The paintings were rediscovered in 1926 and restored by the late Professor E.W. Tristram. They represent:

1. Saint Christopher bearing the Holy Child on his shoulder and holding his staff which grew into a tree, showing the river bank, hermit and hermitage.

2. The Seven Deadly Sins portrayed as a tree, with the figure of Pride at its apex, and springing from the trunk six dragons in whose mouths are allegorical figures representing the other vices.

3. Acts of Mercy: Clothing the naked; giving drink to the thirsty; visiting the imprisoned; feeding the hungry; harbouring the homeless; visiting the sick; and burying the dead.

4. The Last Judgment, very indistinct between the fourth and fifth windows, is arranged in a semi-circle formed by the arch of a rainbow, with the figure of Christ seated at the top, and faintly visible at either side angels holding symbols of the Passion.

A new altar was built in 1907, through the gift of Mr and Mrs S. Hill-Wood, with the original altar slab of purbeck marble, with five consecration crosses, built into the new oak table. This slab has lain on the floor of the Sanctuary for many years.

The interior of the church reflects extensive Victoria renovation with the seating consisting of fairly modern wood pews. The pews in the main body of the church were put in 1869. The pulpit, reading desk and lectern were renewed in 1877, with Sir Edward C. Kerrison meeting most of the cost. Several old bench ends remain, however, one which shows the wolf holding St Edmund's head and can fairly easily be picked out.

One of the treasures of the church is the very large 14th century iron-bound elm chest with seven locks, standing at the west end. It recalls the time when the country was plagued by moneylenders. To counter their activities many villages set up chests in their churches to contain money which was loaned without interest on the security of a pledge or the word of sureties. The keys were held by a number of trustees - seven in the case of Hoxne.

Today the church - which is open from 10am to dusk, November - March, and 9am to 6pm, April to October - also houses a local history exhibition with information on the village's long link with the martyrdom of St Edmund, reference to Hoxne's glacial period, details of the discovery of a fabulous Roman hoard and other items of historical interest. Plans are now being drawn up to improve the area of the church where the exhibits are shown and extend the range of material to include more sources of reference to the village itself.

The church also has a large car park which is reached via the entrance (off the B1118) edged in walls made of local Banham brick.