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St Stephen's Church, Ipswich

The medieval church of St Stephen's in Ipswich now functions as the town's tourist information centre, but it retains many decorative elements from its time as a place of worship, including impressive monuments to the deceased.

Ipswich, the county town of Suffolk, contains around a dozen medieval churches. About half are still used for worship, and about half are located in the town centre, only a short walk apart. The town centre churches were disproportionally the ones that fell into disuse and a poor state of repair, although they have been renovated and repurposed in recent years. St Stephen's transformation into the town's tourist information center is a sensitive regeneration which preserves many internal features, and naturally welcomes visitors in to see them.

There is a skull-adorned monument to John Reynolds, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Mary on the wall in the south aisle, behind the tourist centre's counters. Other decorative memorial plaques can be found dotted around the building.

The most impressive monument in the church is the alabaster memorial to Robert and Mary Leman, located in the Chancel. The couple are depicted facing each other in prayer, with skulls and their coat of arms above them and their five children below. The inscription on the memorial romantically describes how they died on the same day, unwilling to be parted by death.

...who as in life they were irreprovable so in death inseperable, both expiring in one day being the 3d of Septem. 1673. The same sunne that closed Her eyes in the morning shutting up His in the evening. They left behind them 1 sonne 4 daughters.
Beneath this monument intombed lye
the rare remark of a conjugal tye.
Robert & Mary who to shew how neere
they did comply, how to each other deare
one loath behind the other long to stay
(as married) dyed to-gether in one day.

As well as the wall-mounted monuments, the church contains its font and four hatchments, two of which are original to the building. I didn't appreciate what they were when I was taking my photos - I just thought they were heraldic paintings - so they aren't pictured below. I've since learned from a guidebook that they are heraldic paintings but significant as being produced upon a death and hung in a home for the period of mourning, then optionally displayed in a church afterwards. The hatchments are usually square and hung from a corner, making them diamond-shaped, and bear mottos such as Mors janua vitae or 'Death is the gate of Life'. I shall look out for them in future, as an interesting part of death and mourning rituals we've generally forgotten.

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