St Mary, Huntingfield, Suffolk

Once off the A140 and the A12, much of the High Suffolk clayland is an unknown area, full of the unexpected. You walk up the church path thinking that Huntingfield looks a typical Suffolk church – nice flushworked Perp. porch, symbolic of local pride, but they didn’t have enough money for a really swish Perp. tower.

Open the door though, and the sight will take your breath away, for the nave and chancel roofs are brilliantly painted or, as Suffolk might well say, bedecked and bedizened. The Reverend William Holland came here as Rector in 1848 and remained until his death in 1891. His account books show that most of the £2,034 spent on the restoration of the church came from his own pocket, but for once a Victorian parson is upstaged by his wife. Between September 1859 and April 1860, Mildred Holland repainted the chancel roof with 12 large painted angels, half of whom hold scrolls with a canticle; the others bear the Instruments of the Passion, cross, hammer and nails, the crown of thorns, lance and reed and the scourge. She did the job lying on her back, with the help of scaffolding.

After three years’ rest, she repainted the nave roof with figures of the Twelve Apostles and Saints Margaret and Anne. If this was in Italy, English people would be beating a path to the door, but because it is in the depths of the countryside it is one of East Anglia’s best-kept secrets. Mildred Holland (d. 1878), Suffolk’s answer to Michelangelo. A partnership of a rich Rector and a talented wife proved a winning combination. Anglican patrimony.

Pray for and give thanks for clergy wives, a great support to their husbands in their vocation, and largely unthanked by the Church as a whole.