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St Peter and St Paul, Bardfield Saling

Bardfield Saling

Bardfield Saling Bardfield Saling Bardfield Saling
Bardfield Saling Bardfield Saling Bardfield Saling

    I remember being captivated by this pretty church when I first visited it in 2012. I recall coming over the rise from the direction of Great Saling, and there below across a recently ploughed field was the round-towered, red-roofed St Peter and St Paul in its tight, tree-lined graveyard. On that day of late autumn sunshine it was full of light, and full of light too when I came back in May 2015, but now the church had become secretive behind boilings of deep green across a field of golden barley.

Stepping inside, you find yourself in a space once ancient and neatly-kept, a west gallery above the font at one end and a curious apse-like chancel replacing one destroyed by a stray bomb in 1941. There is no coloured glass. The pulpit is an oddity, at first sight a cut-down triple-decker piece, although it looks more as if a 17th Century pulpit has been plonked on a platform faced with 17th Century panelling. Along the south side of the nave runs the St Catherine chapel, before the Reformation the site of an elaborate shrine, large chunks of which have been recovered from the churchyard over the years and displayed inside the church. And so, yes, I was looking forward to going back.

It was the first really sunny day of 2018, and warm too, a slight breeze from the north-east dying back as I headed out from Braintree. As I say, this was my third visit, and although the notice suggests the church is ordinarily open, adding just in case '...if the church is locked you can collect the key from...' I'm afraid that I've found it locked on each previous visit, and so it proved on this occasion.

The key is across the road at the farmhouse, which incidentally has a large and vociferous dog, fortunately on a chain although this isn't immediately clear. But the keyholder was out. However, the notice suggested that I might also ring the churchwarden, so I did so. She provided the helpful information that there was another key, and then having told me where the key was, she then appeared to have doubts. She asked me rather formally why I wanted to go inside, so I made some throwaway remark about it being a lovely day to visit churches, without telling her who I was.

I went and got the key, and let myself inside. You won't be surprised to learn that, within five minutes, another 'visitor' arrived. He had a large young dog straining on a leash, and moved briskly about the church pointing out things he thought were of interest, while the dog snuffled and yelped excitedly . Well, being slightly deaf I couldn't hear a word he was saying, so I smiled and nodded and remarked that it was a nice day. Actually, he may have been talking to the dog rather than to me. It didn't exactly spoil the visit, but I could have done without it. It is a small church and very photogenic inside, but fortunately I had taken all the photographs I wanted.

After about five minutes he remarked to the dog that it was time to get back in the car and head on to Stebbing. I sat down to recapture the sense of the numinous I had originally sought and found. But when I left the church about ten minutes later the man and his dog were still sitting in the car outside. Presumably he was ringing the churchwarden to reassure her that I wasn't a Satanist fire-raiser or a bench-thief or anything.

A few miles to put under my belt now, and they took me northwards out of Braintree's orbit into the fabulously wealthy district of Uttlesford.

Simon Knott, April 2018


looking east sanctuary St Catherine's chapel
font chancel pulpit remains of the shrine altar
Bardfield Saling altar looking west
font St Catherine chapel oil lamp
the men of Little Saling medieval tiles Leslie Haden-Guest
screen 17th Century graffiti: bishop or devil? 17th Century graffiti: man in puritan hat Bardfield Saling

the Bardfield Saling dead


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