I decided to combine business with pleasure (again), so after dropping my boots off at the shoe repair in Hadleigh this morning, I wandered over to the old church in the center of town. I’ve passed it a thousand times, I’m sure, and while I often appreciate it in passing, I’ve never stopped for a visit. I thought I’d just wander through the old graveyard, take a photograph to document my visit, then walk home. As I rounded the corner, however, I met a man who greeted me like an old friend and invited me in. How could I refuse such an offer? His unexpected welcome had a touch of sparkle to it that made me curious and reminded me of of the real reasons for this walking project. I accepted his invitation and followed him inside.
I quickly realized that this little church has history, the kind of Real History that boggles my California born-and-bred mentality. Built 1000 years ago on the site of an even earlier church, it once served the inhabitants of our local Hadleigh Castle, and has been in continual use through the centuries.The Church of St James the Less is welcoming and seems to have met the challenge of combining traditional worship with the needs of a modern congregation, and the congregation members I met clearly treasured their heritage.
My guide didn’t try to make it anything it wasn’t, but pointed out some of the beloved and respected features, including this Saxon cross carved into one of the stones in a doorway.
And this medieval fresco that dates back to the 12th century, one of a number of such wall paintings that were discovered during restoration work in 1856, of which two remain today. Amazing!
He also invited me to pray. The invitation was just hesitant enough to feel absolutely sincere, “You might want to light a candle for someone, or just pray for peace,” he said. And I did want that very much. I have been needing such a place in my local community, and I suspect I will drop in frequently, to rest in the timeless sanctity of this beautiful church and to light a candle to accompany my prayers. Truly, this is sacred ground.