Flower laying ceremony at St. Cyriac & St. Julitta church in Swaffham Prior to mark 100 years since outbreak of Great War

Window at Swaffham Prior

Window at Swaffham Prior - Credit: Archant

To mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War, a special flower laying ceremony was held today at the Church of St. Cyriac & St. Julitta in the picturesque rural village of Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire.

Lilies at Swaffham Prior

Lilies at Swaffham Prior - Credit: Archant

St Cyriac’s was vested with The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) in 1973, as it was no longer needed for regular worship.

It is now open to the public and maintained by a dedicated Friends group, who take advantage of the open space and excellent acoustics by putting on regular events including exhibitions, tea parties and concerts.

CCT are the leading national charity protecting historic churches at risk.

Their spokesman said: “We care for over 340 churches nationwide, which attract nearly two million visitors per year. Across these churches we are responsible for a number of war memorials, as well as the sites of worship for many who served.

“The ‘Not Forgotten’ events are intended to commemorate the lives that were lost or changed forever with the laying of one white lily at several CCT churches across the country.”

At Swaffham Prior, around 50 villagers gathered to remember together. White lilies, representing innocence and rebirth, were placed reverently upon the altar as a powerful symbol of remembrance for all those who were affected by the conflict. Individual pink lilies were then laid in memory of specific family members of local people who had lost their lives. After a long moment of reflective silence, poems and letters from the front were read aloud.

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The strange and beautiful St. Cyriac’s is, very unusually, one of two churches sharing the same churchyard, with St. Mary’s, which is still in regular use, a mere stone’s throw away. St. Mary’s boasts three well-known 1919 war memorial windows, unique in their explicit documentation of the brutality, violence, and horror suffered by those who were involved in the Great War.

Two of the windows depict scenes from the war, complete with tanks, zeppelins and aeroplanes, while the third, a “peace window,” shows idyllic scenes of the rural life soldiers might have hoped to return to.

The group moved from their solemn commemoration at St. Cyriac’s to listen to a BBC radio documentary about the windows at St. Mary’s, recorded in 1995. The programme captured and preserved the last living memories of a bygone age from residents of Swaffham, who spoke movingly of the pressures on young men to join up, the sadness of the losses they suffered, and the hardship of returning home to a nation that had been changed forever.

The Church of St. Cyriac & St. Julitta is open to visitors every day from 10am-5pm. To find out more about events at this and other CCT churches, go to www.visitchurches.org.uk.