A small but select group of us gathered at St Mary the Virgin, Swaffham Prior for the fifth leg of my Lent Pilgrimage last Wednesday. Yet again the sun shone on our righteousness (?), and after the usual prayers we set off under the expert guidance of Francis towards Reach, very much taking the back ways whenever we could.
Now Swaffham famously has two churches side by side (our final prayers of the day were in St Cyriac and Julitta’s) – but so does little Reach. As we arrived we were met by a wonderful party of reinforcements outside the Victorian St Etheldreda’s (1861) for our second service and refeshments, but I took the opportunity to nip round the back and take a likeness of the older church there whose east wall still stands. Built of clunch, it’s a wonder it lasted as well it did. The first record of a church at Reche was the founding in 1378, by Sir John Peksbridge, of a perpetual chantry chapel dedicated to St. Etheldreda the Virgin, foundress and first Abbess of Ely probably on the site of an earlier consecrated building, there being a Guild dedicated to St. John formerly in this place.
From there it was a gentle stroll, on the back ways again, into Burwell and the magnificent church of St Mary, supposedly built by the same architect as that of King’s College Chapel. (Cardinal Wolsey was also Rector there.) Our interest was diverted however towards some excellent home-made cakes brought to us by the young mum of the congregation’s newest member. Yummm!
Finally, it was back on more back ways to Swaffham Prior’s second church (now in the care of the Churches’ Conservation Trust), time to get a few chairs out, and some last thoughts and prayers. Excellent!
The next and final leg of the Pilgrimage is on Saturday 31st March. We meet at 10am at Foxton Church and will be visiting Shepreth and Barrington.