The Chancel

A very distinctive feature of St John’s is its ‘weeping’ chancel which has a very definite inclination towards the south, as you can clearly see when standing in the centre of the nave. Although these deflections are not common in churches, St John’s is by no means unique. They often occur in churches built (as this one is) on sloping ground. Some have said that the deflection symbolises our Lord’s head inclined upon the cross, but the explanation may well be more practical. We must remember that the chancel (which was the responsibility of the rector) often had a different life-history from the rest of the church, which was in the care of the parishioners. With the different rebuilds and restorations, the medieval builders may have found it necessary to slightly alter the orientation.

The Chancel arch was re-made in 1872, when the two-bay south arcade (in the style of the 1200s) was built to replace much smaller arches. The northern arch followed in 1908 when the organ chamber was added.

The oldest visible craftsmanship inside the church may be seen in the arch of the (restored) piscina recess in the south wall of the sanctuary, which is decorated with ‘dog-tooth’ ornament (like impressions made by molar teeth), which dates it back to the 1200s. Into the piscina drain was poured the disposable water used at the Eucharists celebrated at the nearby altar.

The credence table nearby incorporates a double panel from the 15th century Rood Screen. The panel retains its original colours   and a band of golden ‘gesso’ work near the top of the left-hand panel.

The organ, by Albert Pease of Hackney, was installed here in 1952, having been purchased second-hand for £675. It has two manuals, pedals and 15 speaking stops.

The Communion rails, in memory of churchwarden Cecil Fryer, were made by Ernest Barnes to the designs of H Munro Cautley in 1954.

Lining the east wall, beneath the east window, is the elaborately-carved stone reredos, which was carved by the Saxmundham stonemason, Thomas Thurlow, in 1873 as a memorial to John Charles Crampin, who died in 1869. Fashioned in the style of c.1320-30, its five arches frame a central ‘IHS’ monogram of our Lord’s name, flanked by the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and Apostles’ Creed.

Thomas Thurlow also carved John Crampin’s memorial plaque in the north aisle and Sarah Mayhew’s tablet over the vestry door. This talented Saxmundham craftsman is buried beneath his family’s table-tomb on the left-hand side as you leave the churchyard.

The East window is a fine piece of design and craftsmanship by the prolific London firm of Lavers, Barraud and Westlake, consisting of eight shaped panels linked with an interface – the four lower panels showing scenes  from the life of John the Baptist (as a child with his aged parents, proclaiming his message, pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and his execution) and the upper panels  showing  events in the life of Jesus (his Birth, Baptism, Crucifixion and Resurrection). John appears again high in the tracery, proclaiming Christ, the Lamb of God, who is seen in majesty above him. It was given in 1872 by Saxmundham solicitor, James Southwell and his wife.

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