Ralph’s Hole: Hemingstone Church


The Suffolk Church of St Gregory is a quaint, rural parish church, protected from the modern world by large fields and narrow lanes. It is not a large or imposing church, but it is delightful in its rustic charm. Curiously, the building appears to have two porches attached to its north wall. Simon Knott on his wonderful Suffolk Churches website explains that one of them was built in the 1590s as a private chapel by the local landlord, Ralph Cantrell. As a Catholic, he was neither willing to hear Anglican service nor to pay the fines for absence, so he, his family and servants would sit in a separate room and complete their own devotions while the Protestant worship was conducted next door. A squint (a narrow cutting through the wall which enables one to view the next room) enabled him to see what was going on, and would legally mean that he and his family were in attendance. It is known as 'Ralph's Hole' even today. Whether Ralph was sincerely leading his family in Popish devotions, or whether he sat there talking or sleeping, smugly keeping the letter of the law without worshipping in the way the state demanded, I cannot be certain.

I wonder how many of us are present at public worship but absent in spirit. We think about all sorts, perhaps even the people in the room, or the things we must do before we go home. When we join together to worship, let us come boldly into God’s presence and behold Him and His glory through the eyes of faith. Forget the distractions and chores, forget those around you and what they might be thinking.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see

There’s light for a look at the Saviour,

And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.