St Nicholas, Ipswich, Suffolk
- Site Location
- National Grid Reference
- TM 162 444
; Thetford 1071-94
now: St Edmundsbury and Ipswich since 1914.
now (or name of monument): none (formerly St Nicholas)
- Type of building/monument
- Parish church (redundant)
II General Description
The church stands on Franciscan Way, part of the Ipswich inner ring road, in an area of office buildings between the town centre and the docks. It became redundantc.1980 and came into the possession of Ipswich Borough Council, who rented it to the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust. In 2001 the Diocese bought it from the Council for £1, in order to convert it into a flexible meeting place in the centre of Ipswich for the church, community, business and charities. It includes a conference, meeting and performance space, a bookshop and a restaurant. The church consists of a nave with aisles of flint and rubble construction, of four bays without a clerestorey but with 15thc. dormers at the east end to light the rood area. The arcade, S doorway and aisle windows suggest a date ofc.1300. The aisles were extended for one bay alongside the chancel in the 15thc., and on the N side a knapped flint gabled chapel was added E of this, which is now the Revelations bookshop. On the S side of the chancel, a passage leads to the glass-walled restaurant of 2004-05. The S nave doorway is protected by a brick porch. The W tower is 15thc, of knapped flint with diagonal buttresses and an embattled parapet with elaborate flushwork and crocketed pinnacles. It was rebuilt in 1886. St Nicholas's has no Romanesque fabric but houses the most celebrated Romanesque sculpture in the county: a tympanum carved with a boar, a relief of St Michael and the Dragon and three reliefs of apostles.
VI Loose Sculpture
The carved stones described below are currently displayed on the north side of the chancel, in a rather narrow space between the blocked arch to the bookshop and the shelving that has been installed for the bookshop in the chancel itself. The stones are numbered from left to right in their present setting.
(i) St Michael relief
The block is approximately rectangular. It shows St Michael standing frontally at the left, the dragon in left profile at the right, and an inscription between the two towards the bottom of the block. In his left hand the saint holds a large kite-shaped shield towards the dragon. It has an inscribed border and a small inscribed decoration in the centre. In his right hand he holds a short sword upright. His head is turned slightly towards the dragon, but all his facial features are lost. Behind his head are short wings, displayed horizontally to either side and decorated with long fluted feathers and fish-scale ornament at the joints. He wears a long tunic with a pleated skirt decorated with zigzags. This has a deep bottom hem with decoration like the cones of a multi-scallop capital. Below this his ankles and feet emerge, the latter damaged. The dragon is shown in left profile, attacking St Michael. It has front legs only, and a tail curved in a figure-of-eight. Its body is covered with fish-scale ornament and it has short wings with fluted feathers. It has a horse-like head with a large eye, roughly oval, inscribed with a shallowly drilled pupil. Its mouth is open wide and from it projects a triple-forked tongue with arrow terminals. With its front legs it rears towards the saint. The legs are thin, each with two long claws. The Anglo-Saxon inscription is in three lines and reads: HER: SCE/ MIHAEL: FEHTPID/ DANE: DRACA (Here St Michael fought the dragon). The rectangular block has been broken in two and repaired. The edges of the block are slightly chipped and the upper right angle has been broken off. The surface is generally good, except for the head of the saint, which has been erased, and his left and right arms and his feet, which are chipped away.
|h. of block||0.55 m|
|w. of block||0.89 m|
|Thickness of block||0.08 m|
(ii) Boar tympanum
The tympanum is a single semicircular stone with a field on its front face bounded by a raised fillet, just inside the curved edge of the stone, carrying an inscription in upper case lettering. The fillet also runs along the lower edge of the stone (without an inscription) and in the recessed main field is carved a boar in relief. The boar is shown in right profile with its head down, its snout just above the groundline. Its mouth is open, with a large tusk rising from the lower jaw, two small upright ears and an almond-shaped inscribed eye. A ridge of bristles, shown by parallel oblique grooves, runs right along the boar's back, ending in a short curly tail. The body is decorated with incised grooves and drill holes, and the penis is shown projecting forward in front of the rear legs. The four legs are long and thin; all four bent backwards at the middle joint. It two- or three-toed claws for feet. The Latin inscription reads: IN DEDICATIONE ECLESIE OMNIUM SANCTORUM (In dedication of the church of All Saints). On the reverse of the tympanum is a cross patée in low relief. It stands on a raised groundline, and is decorated with an incised cross with drill-holes at the terminals.
|diameter of block||1.00 m|
|h of block (radius)||0.57 m|
|thickness of block||0.13 m|
(iii)-(v) Three standing reliefs of apostles
Each relief was a tall rectangle when complete, and each shows part of a frontal standing figure to the right and part of a tall, narrow cross to the left. They presumably formed a frieze.
|max. h of block||0.55 m|
|max. w of block||0.26 m|
|max. h of block||0.57 m|
|max. w of block||0.25 m|
|max. h of block||0.57 m|
|max. w of block||0.22 m|
The block has lost its upper right section, and is now trapezoidal; full height on the left with the upper edge broken diagonally so that it is approximately two thirds of its original height on the right edge. On the left, only the right edge of the upright of the cross and the right arm appear; the remainder being cut off by the edge of the block. The cross is outlined by a groove and no lettering is visible. On the right, the loss of the upper angle has cut off the upper right half of the head and the right shoulder. What remains of the face has been erased. The figure is apparently dressed in four layers of liturgical vestments. The lowest, visible only at the lower hem, is a soft garment falling in reeded folds ending in loops above the feet (which are broken off). Above this is a garment with a Y-shaped lower hem decorated with a band of single cable. Above this is a knee-length tunic decorated with hatching and with a lower border similar to that of the garment below, then over the shoulders is a cope. There is a liturgical shawl around the neck, decorated with a thin row of cable moulding. Over the left wrist hangs a maniple with fringes at the ends. The hands have long, thin fingers, and in the right hand he holds a crosier with an upper cross terminal and a pair of lugs towards the bottom diagonally across his body.
This block is the most complete of the three, but has apparently been broken into three pieces and repaired with a red adhesive. Again the figure is towards the right, and it is complete except for a thin band at the right, cut off by the edge of the block. His feet are broken off at the tips, and the head, long and thus probably bearded, has been deliberately erased. The lower garment appears only as sets of reeded folds flaring out to left and right over the feet. Above this (or possibly the same garment) the body is covered with a long tunic decorated with parallel curved bands of horizontal beading and cable. Over the shoulders is a garment with a hems decorated with rows of annulets, and a long shawl with cable decoration terminates in a pair of half-leaf shaped scrolls at the ends, around ankle level. In both hands he holds a long, looped scroll-like object decorated with longitudinal reeding. At the left edge stands the right half of a cross with a groove outlining shaft and arms. Lettering running down the cross from the top reads TOLVS.
The block has a major triangular loss at the lower left, and a thinner loss connected to this along the left edge. The entire upper part of the cross survives, including borders, and the inscription is therefore complete. It reads, OSTOLVS. Only the left side of the figure appears, the remainder cut off by the right edge of the block. This includes the right hand, holding a tau-cross with a pointed lower end like a cricket stump; the right arm, clad in fluted fabric, the edge only of a garment terminating in a curled-up lower hem, and no feet. Part of the head appears, and this is again erased.
Neither (i) nor (ii) came from St Nicholas' church originally. For (i), there was a church of St Michael recorded in the Domesday Survey as a possession of Wulfwine the Priest, and it later belonged to the Priory of the Holy Trinity, begunc.1177 by Normanius Gastrode, filii Egnostii. St Michael's appears in a charter of King John listing the possessions of the Priory at the beginning of the 13thc. The present All Saints' church is of 1885-87 by S. Wright of Lancashire. Speed's map of 1610 does not show a church with this dedication in Ipswich, although there was a chapel of All Saints in the parish of St Matthew.
This former parish church is now a community and conference centre.
The most thorough analysis is in the two articles by Galbraith, who suggested that the boar tympanum's obvious phallic reference made it a fertility symbol. The motif is more common in Scandinavia than England; it is found in the Gotland churches of Väte and Grötlingbo. It is unusual to find tympana with carving on both faces. Enclosing the design within this kind of heavy border, inside the edge of the block, is unusual too but it is found within the county on a relatively plain tympanum at St Peter's, Baylham. Zarnecki (English Romanesque Art) dates (i) and (ii)c.1120 and relates them to the Ringerike-influenced Guildhall grave slab, but this was made some 70-100 years earlier and the similarities are not striking. Pevsner compares the style of the St Michael relief to a lintel at Hoveringham (Notts).
- H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 280.
- English Romanesque Art 1066-1200 (exh. cat.). London (Arts Council) 1984, 164-65.
- K. J. Galbraith, 'Early Sculpture at St Nicholas's Church, Ipswich', Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology XXXI pt.2 (1968), 172-84.
- K. J. Galbraith, 'Further Thoughts on the Boar at St Nicholas's Church, Ipswich', Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology XXXIII pt.1 (1973), 68-74.
- N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 294-95.
- Victoria County History: Suffolk II (1975), 103-05 (on Holy Trinity Priory).