Thaxted Church, Essex

Thaxted church stands on a hill at the upper end of the small town it dominates, and its spire is visible for miles. Although the present building came into being over nearly two centuries, it has a unity in its appearance. Stone spires are not common in stoneless East Anglia, and here is one of the finest, owing not a little to its delicate flying buttresses, smaller versions of the kind seen at Whittlesey St Mary and Yaxley in Cambridgeshire.

Step in through the north porch, and around and above you is spaciousness, the result of the flat pitched nave and aisle roofs; the aisles denuded of pews; and the nave only partly populated by chairs. Fragments of medieval glass interspersed through the generously proportioned 15th c. windows permit one of the lightest interiors you will meet.

Look east towards the chancel, where, in a characteristic touch of imagination, Conrad Noel hung six banners depicting saints, a splendid touch of colour that warms the atmosphere before the Kempe east window. Walk down either aisle to the crossing, and you are conscious of views and vistas. The spaciousness means that none of the fine furnishings dominate; it is the memory of the ensemble that you take away with you.

During his incumbency of thirty-two years, Conrad Noel not only founded the Catholic Crusade but also brought refurnishing and liturgical renewal to Thaxted. To him, Socialism and Catholicism were one.

Visit Thaxted church and read Luke 1.46–55. Remember that not only did Mary say, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,’ but also, ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.’

Grid ref: TL6131

Simon Cotton