Clare's Balcony

At St Peter and St Paul’s Church in the village of Clare in the county of Suffolk is a strange, wooden balcony overlooking the building’s large nave. I took advantage of the opportunity and ascended the stairway that accessed it. It afforded a fine view of the place, which was more fortuitous for visitors like me armed with a modest camera. To look down on so splendid a structure, as well as to look up at so interesting a roof, was a pleasure indeed. Why though, was it built to begin with?

It certainly gave its intended occupants a good view, but they might have inspected the furnishings at the leisure at other times, unlike visiting Lancastrians. Local gentry often had their own pews, at the front or snuggled up in a discreet side chapel where they might snooze. Perchance this gentleman wished to watch the divine service from further a field, without the smell of the commoner sort reaching his nostrils. Or, was he wishing to keep an eye on the congregation? Were they observing the Prayer Book’s rubrics, ensuring the common folk were faithfully conforming to the state, obediently attending service instead of stealing off into the woods or some illegal chapel in which nonconformist worship was hosted?

There is something quite marvellous about worshippers all sitting and standing together in church: the redeemed people of God united, regardless of social class, education, looks or opinions. This is a foretaste of heaven, if e’er there was one. Let us object to those little balconies from which we enjoy looking down at others.