Saturday, 10 September 2011

Long Melford Church, Alice, and the 3 Hares


Long Melford is a small village on the Suffolk/Essex border. It has a population of 3,675 at latest count, but it has a church which should, by its size, be a cathedral.


Completed in 1484, it is one of the richest ‘wool churches’ in East Anglia.  The wool merchants were becoming rich at this time and building a church worthy of their lofty status was a common way of showing just how rich they were. An ecclesiastical building boom saw competition for building the biggest and grandest church.



Empty niches and blank panes of glass show where Cromwell’s soldiers passed this way.


But some stained glass survived and it is claimed that the figure in this window, The Duchess of Norfolk, was the inspiration for the Ugly Duchess in Alice in Wonderland.

The other quirky thing we found is this tiny roundel set in the window over the North Door.


Three hares and, if you look closely, they each appear to have two ears, but . . there are only three ears.  You can see that it has been repaired since it was damaged during the time of Cromwell.

Of course, to Christians, this represents the Holy Trinity, ’three in one and one in three’, and it appears in many churches.  If we hadn’t been so focussed on The Hounds of The Baskervilles last year, we might have heard of the 30 or so around Dartmoor.

Cave 407

I’ve discovered sine then that the three hares have a much older and more distant origin, the earliest example known is in a Buddhist cave temple in China and dates back to around 600 AD.  It is now believed that it travelled the silk road, appearing in India, then from there up to Europe.  It was on 13th century Mongol metal work, and on a copper coin, found in Iran, dated to 1281, in Synagogues and Churches all over Northern Europe


and has even been adopted as the Coat of Arms of Hasloch in Bavaria.

Why three hares (sometimes believed to be rabbits)?  Well, the experts may rabbit on and on, but the Chinese, Japanese and Mexicans speak of the Hare in the moon, Egyptian myths associated hares with the cycles of the moon.

Who would have thought that a church in the English countryside would yield connections to China and Wonderland.


  1. That's fascinating, Pat!

  2. Thanks, Kathy. It's the little hidden things that fascinate me.


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