A Derelict Delight – St Michael’s

StM-roof

According to my copy of ‘The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches – No 2 Central Suffolk‘ by D P Mortlock, St Michael’s Church in Upper Orwell Street, Ipswich, might not have an impressive exterior, but a visitor should not be put off because “within is a beautifully spacious setting for worship in the C19 Evangelical tradition”.

StMichaels-derelict-glass

As you can see from the photographs since the publication of the guide nearly 30 years ago St Michael’s has suffered extensive fire damage and no longer has any spacious interior. It is now derelict. In one of those twists of fate the irony is that in 1880 the first foundation stones of the church were laid on a site previously cleared of dilapidated, ‘slum’ cottages especially to make way for a brand new church. The architect of St Michael’s was Edward Fearnley Bisshopp and this was his only complete church. Within the remains there is still some original stained glass in two of the three lancets of the east window. It was made by Victorian glassmakers John Underwood & Sons. It shows St Paul, St John and St Luke oddly reversed as unexpectedly viewed from the exterior.

John-Underhill-and-Sons-Glass-saints

The three saints filling the other lancet are St Matthew, St Peter and St Andrew although it is hard to distinguish their attributes. Within the general body of Victorian stained glass this work is unremarkable and is of a plain workmanlike utility, but its mere survival amongst the ruins has endowed it with a special quality.

StM-glass

The overwhelming drama of the roofless church is the unexpected effect of seeing the exposed, jewel-like glass illuminated by bright, clear early evening light from the inside.

StMichaels-full-evening-sun

More photos of the interior of the church immediately after the 2011 suspected arson attack can be seen here.

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Heaven in Suffolk – Masaaki Suzuki plays Bach

Framlingham St Michael
St Michael’s Church, Framlingham, Suffolk.
Every now and then the ordinariness of everyday life falls away and you are left in a very special place. It could be the beauty of an unexpected view, the heady scent of a delicate bloom, but last week for me it was hearing Bach’s ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’. It was played on the Thamar organ in St Michael’s Church, Framlingham, by one of the world’s most celebrated Bach specialists, Masaaki Suzuki.

Sandwiched between some Buxtehude and Bach’s ‘Prelude & Fugue in E minor’ BWV 548, it was a glimpse of the sublime. I know you shouldn’t attempt to unpick such moments, but I have been trying to understand why it was so good.

The interior of the church is nothing special. However, I think its size coupled with the stone walls and pillars, provides a cavernous-feeling acoustic without being too big for the sound of the restored 17th-century Thamar organ. Secondly, the rich, mellow sound of the organ was powerful without becoming harsh and strident. And, finally, the playing of Masaaki Suzuki imparted a gentle, flowing sentiment that still pulsed with a firm 18th-century rhythm.

painted pipes
The painted pipes of the Thomas Thamar Organ – one of only three surviving 17th-century Thamar organs.