St Katharine’s, Little Bardfield

In 1866, a new rector carried out a thorough restoration of Little Bardfield church, ‘rescuing the fabric from a state of desolation and decay’. Richard White, whose very advanced churchmanship for 1866 included reservation of the Sacrament and wearing Eucharistic vestments, engaged Bodley to carry out this work, which included a complete makeover of the chancel. He installed a tabernacle on the High Altar and a splendid Clayton and Bell East window of the Crucifixion, as well as creating a chamber for a late 17th c. Renatus Harris organ.

Another new rector, Robert Beaken, carried off a similarly thorough job on what had become a sad and neglected building a century and a half later. The church was refloored and the whole building, its monuments and its furnishings were cleaned and redecorated, revealing Bodley’s work in all its glory, with his rood beam and rood returned to its original conception. From the Anglo-Saxon tower to the new shrine of Our Lady, a half-size copy of Our Lady of Grace at Nettuno in Italy, Little Bardfield church glows.

But this is not all that makes the parish remarkable. A third determined rector, Edward Mears, ran a theological college based in his rectory from 1910 to 1940, training three hundred ordinands from poor backgrounds. At a time when theological training in the Church of England is at a nadir, the Brotherhood of St Paul is another salutary reminder of what a country parson may achieve.

‘The Countrey Parson hath a speciall care of his Church, that all things there be decent, and befitting his Name by which it is called’ (George Herbert, A Priest to the Temple, chapter XI II).

Map reference TL 655307

Simon Cotton