Wetherden, St Mary the Virgin
The medieval Grade 1 church of St Mary sits centrally in the peaceful Suffolk village of Wetherden. The chancel dates from the 1300s and has a fine four-light east window with the carved base of a gable cross above. Its south wall has a priest’s door with a moulded surround.
The south aisle, dating from the 1500s, has fine flintwork and carved limestone detailing in the plinth and around the doorway. At about eye level on the second buttress to the right of the main entrance is an inscribed Mass dial. The buttress immediately to the right of the entrance has a tall panel carved with an Annunciation Lily, which escaped the reformation.
Inside, the carved timber roof is outstanding. The nave has an oak hammerbeam roof of nine bays, decorated with seated canopied figures. The aisle roof has arch-braces with rich and varied carved detail, and bosses bearing shields or foliage beneath the intersections. There are six winged angels in the roof, mainly at the east end of the aisle. The chancel roof is of similar date and quality to that in the nave.
The church contains a large number of medieval and later furnishings, including a set of thirteen poppyhead benches, with animal figures seated upon the bench ends dating from the fifteenth century. In the aisle is a fine limestone and marble monument to Sir John Sulyard (d.1574).
The church suffered bomb damage in 1941, with loss of much of the window glass. Twentieth century alterations have been minor, the only notable addition being that of a vestry on the north side.
Wetherden church is home to five species of bats: Brown Long-eared; Common and Soprano Pipistrelle; Serotine and Natterer’s.
They roost and rear their pups in the crevices of the magnificent hammerbeam ceiling and in the roof void over the porch. Bats began to live in the church in greater numbers when nearby trees were felled for the bypass.
The church community struggled to live alongside the bats. Bat droppings and urine mean that volunteers had to clean the church every week throughout the year and that the historic interior was being damaged.
Working with an expert licensed ecologist through the Bats in Churches project, the church architect designed three large new bat boxes in the eaves. Initially, the bats were able to explore the new boxes and also roost in the church interior for one year, and then in 2021, the boxes were closed up, no longer allowing access to the church interior. The bats can roost inside the boxes but no longer get into the church. The works also also made the porch roof void more attractive as a bat roost and improved access to it for the bats.
Despite an enforced break due to COVID-19, the work was completed. Additional works were needed when lime mortar became dislodged, allowing the bats to regain access to the church.
Suffolk Bat Group led two popular and well-attended bat walks for the PCC.