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Gazeley's All Saints church ceiling carvings inspire book by historian



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The future is looking up for a church after a substantial donation led to the publication and sale of a book which explores the origins of 150 small wooden mediaeval carvings on its ceiling.

The carvings had barely been visible from the floor of All Saints’ Church, in Gazeley, but a donation made in the will of local man Jack Marsh when he died in 2006 helped bring the artworks in to focus when a scaffold was erected to use the £30,000 sum for extensive repairs.

Upon climbing the scaffold with her daughter, former church warden Maggie Pugh saw the carvings up close and word then began to spread, due to the rarity of such images in churches since Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell’s destruction of religious idols in the 16th century.

Gazeley Church, church warden Maggie Pugh and Rob Pilsworth with the book.
Gazeley Church, church warden Maggie Pugh and Rob Pilsworth with the book.

“I’d seen a few of them when the scaffold was up years earlier, but it was only when Simon photographed all of them in detail more recently that we realised just how interesting they were and how many we had.

“We didn’t realise the historical significance at that time either, and just how much they detail mediaeval village life.

“When we saw them all up close, we were amazed because the craftmanship is incredible.”

Gazeley church carving. Picture by Simon Johnson
Gazeley church carving. Picture by Simon Johnson
Gazeley church carving. Picture by Simon Johnson
Gazeley church carving. Picture by Simon Johnson
Gazeley church carving. Picture by Simon Johnson
Gazeley church carving. Picture by Simon Johnson

The fine detail on the depictions was further documented when historian and public library manager Simon Johnson visited the 13th century church while touring churches in East Anglia and photographing their interiors.

Having noted that written and online guides to Suffolk’s churches made no mention of the carvings, upon hearing about them, his curiosity led him to visit with a telephoto lens, allowing him to take high resolution pictures of the carvings from the floor.

The artworks depict animals, people and mythical monsters and are thought to be around 600 years old, having survived the 16th century due to being out of reach and difficult to see from the ground.

The photos taken by Mr Johnson were donated to the church to be used to raise funds, and were placed in a public exhibition in the church during the autumn of 2021.

With visitors keenly interested in the photos, they were then collated in to a book which went on sale last week at The Chequers pub and the Post Office in Moulton for £7, along with being available online for delivery at £8.50 each.

The books, which were privately published with the help and funding of churchgoer Rob Pilsworth, can be ordered by emailing lazarusnfp@btinternet.com