Clare Church, Suffolk

In typical Suffolk style the little town of Clare has a massive church which seems ridiculously large for the size of its parish. As with other Suffolk churches this is down to the wool trade which made this part of East Anglia very wealthy and so the local great and good would often donate large amounts to rebuilding the local church.

The first church at Clare seems to date from the Norman period, possibly founded alongside Clare Priory and Castle both at the other end of the village. The earliest surviving work at Clare Church is from the mid-thirteenth century and unusually the earliest survival is the tower which dominates the church still. The chancel and nave both date from the 15th Century at the peak of wool church building in Suffolk, like many of this period there are small “towerlets” about half-way down the nave giving the church its distinctive outline.

It seems likely that the church was heightened in the 15th Century as well as elongated and it is clear from looking at the exterior of the church that it was built in different stages.

It also seems that some work was carried out after the Dissolution of Clare Priory, probably re-using stones from the buildings there. In the early 17th Century the chancel was repaired and this seems to have been the last major rebuild at Clare.

In 1643 William Dowsing lead some men from the Commonwealth Commission to Clare where they “brake down 1000 pictures superstitious…” he goes on to list specifics including orders that the cherubim in the roof be removed and the sun and moon in the East Window be taken down. The cherubim and the sun and moon managed to escape their attention and have survived until today – but otherwise the very sparse interiors of Clare Church can be put down to the Commission’s attentions.

As with much of Suffolk, the pretty little town of Clare is a joy to visit; with castle, church and priory plus a wealth of ancient buildings including the famous “Clare Ancient House” which stands close to the church and houses a museum.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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