History of St Mary the Virgin Church, East Bergholt

Life at St Mary’s
Our aim is to glorify God and enjoy Him together, to be challenged by his Word and to help wherever there is need. The church is open during daylight hours and the Lady Chapel is always available for a moment of quiet. The main Sunday Service is at 10.00am and varies from the more formal Book of Common Prayer service of Matins to informal services where there might be drama to illustrate the readings. All the family are always welcome. On some Sundays we worship together with the congregation from St Michael’s in Brantham at their service at 11.00.

We have a children’s area with puzzles, books and crayons if little ones get wriggly, and we don’t mind a bit of noise (nor does God!) If the happy noises are louder than the sound system amplification you might prefer to investigate the box of toys in the choir vestry. Our Benefice Junior Choir works hard and sings at many services during the year.

Because of the beauty of our church, the connections with John Constable, and our unique bell cage thousands of visitors come through our doors. We serve refreshments during the summer from 10.00-12.00 Monday to Thursday mornings and at other times for groups of 10 + by arrangement. (Contact Jackie 01206 298323 or Rodney 01206 298607)

For more information on John Constable, please visit the National Trust website.

Please note: Parking outside the church is very limited, but there is a larger public car park behind the Red Lion.

The history of St Mary’s
People have worshipped God on this site for over 1000 years but what you see today dates from about 1350 onwards and is late perpendicular in style. The tower  begun in 1525 was never finished. Some people believe that the devil came at night and destroyed  what had been built during the day until the builders lost heart. The other story is that Cardinal Wolsey fell out with Henry VIII and the source of money dried up. Make up your own mind! The end result was that the bells are housed in the bell cage built in 1531.  They are thought to be the heaviest five bells still being rung in England and are rung every Sunday from 9.30 -9.55,  for weddings and other special occasions. The method of ringing makes them unique, they are pushed by hand rather than pulled by rope.

John Constable Memorial Window

The big wooden  west door under the tower has the following inscription SEIOFINEFYALA  HEIHCMFE which is thought to be an abbreviation of the Latin “For holy church John Fine, Francis (or Frederick) Yual and others made (this gift) in honour of Jesus and Mary.”

Entrance to the church is through the south porch and the priest’s room above was made famous by John Constable’s painting. The oldest part of the church is the mid 14th century cross-wall either side of the chancel arch.  The Easter sepulchre depicting the resurrection of our Lord is in the north wall near the sanctuary. The cross was laid in the recess on Good Friday and carried in procession to the altar on Easter morning.  The memorial to Maria Constable, the wife of John Constable R.A.  is above the sepulchre.

The blue lion of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, our patrons, can be seen.  There is a consecration cross in the north wall of the Lady Chapel and see if you can spot which “Works of Christian Mercy “ stained glass windows are back to front.

The John Constable memorial window is in the south aisle (he was born in Flatford and died in 1837) and you can see his sketch of the chancel and sanctuary and an engraving of Willie Lott’s cottage at Flatford. Willie Lott’s grave is on the left of the path leading up to the gate House. Both Dunthorne Graves are in the Churchyard and – just like Willie Lott’s quite readable. They can be found by going straight out of South Porch over the grass towards Old Hall and they are both quite close to the Churchyard wall. Of course Constable’s most famous painting “The Haywain” was painted at Flatford. Constable’s parents are buried in the churchyard near the Garden of Remembrance but he was buried in Hampstead cemetery in London.

There are some interesting memorials including the one to Anna Parker, died 1656, which has a bear’s head and camels and close to it the oldest inscription “ What ere thou art here reader see….”

John Mattinson  was schoolmaster here for 11 years but then according to his memorial “accidentally shot.” The Latin inscription reveals that he was a terror and delight to his pupils!

The modern enclosure at the back of the church is called the West End and is used to serve refreshments and hold smaller meetings.

A more detailed history and description of the church by John Elam is available in our bookshop.


Willie Lott’s grave in St Mary’s churchyard (Above)