NORFOLK  JULY 2021.

East Lexham  St Andrew  -  Open
West Lexham  St Nicholas  -  Open.

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A fairly dull and slightly drizzly day in July 2021 and another day out in Norfolk, this time exploring churches between Swaffham and Fakenham. It had been a hard 18 months or so, with the UK being very badly hit by the covid pandemic. As you will see from the pages of this site, I had been able to travel where possible; but there were times when it was essential journeys only and the camera was quite rightly put in to storage as we got our priorities in order.

In those times when the country was locked down I often looked back on places that I had visited; with some of the lovely sights, wishing that I was there and in happier times. A large number of these fond memories were from Norfolk, and several featured round tower churches. On a depressing days news, with high death rate and things looking bleak; in my mind I was outside the round tower church at Burnham Norton, in the spring with the daffodils out! Or I was outside the church at Hales, a thousand years of history standing in front of me, standing off to the west, watching as the tower obscured the rest of the building. In my mind I was sometimes taking in the church at Little Snoring, with the sun setting and the church bathed in golden rays as the setting sun just hit the right spot.

I visited East and West Lexham for the first time after covid restrictions had ended. If I had visited them in previous years they would have appeared in my escapist thoughts during these challenging months. In my mind it would have been a warm summer evening; thunder rumbling off in the distance. I would have been walking between the two churches. Churchcrawling for me is a solitary thing for the most part but here there would have been someone with me, to share the scene. There would be a picnic at the second of the two churches, sheep bleating in the distance. the air thick and still as the thunder gradually drew closer. 

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The church of St Andrew, East Lexham was the first visited. It is thought to date back to the 11th century and consists of round flint tower, nave running seamlessly in to chancel and south porch. There are no aisles and no clerestory. A sign points the way to the Saxon round tower. A couple hiking were resting in the porch, apologising for being in the way when they saw my camera. The church was open to visitors; moving inside the visitor is greeted with a modern painting of St Michael defeating a dragon; this being a war memorial to the First World War. St Michael holds the scales of judgement, with two figures at prayer in one tray, two condemned in the other! Another modern painting of the nativity, by the same local artist can be seen on the south wall of the chancel.

The fine east window shows six scenes from the life of Jesus; in fairness before the life of Jesus in one case,  with one panel telling the annunciation. I was drawn to the final panel, with Jesus having been taken from the cross. John is wrapped around the shaft of the cross, in despair. Three women surround Jesus, Mary Magdalene holding His hand and staring intently in to His face. Jesus' wounds are visible and the crown of thorns lays close by. In pieta fashion, Mary the mother of Jesus cradles His body.

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The crucifixion scene itself on this window is powerful, Jesus is dead on the cross, John looking on intently with a look of bewilderment. Mary the mother of Jesus stands to one side, head slightly bowed and hands crossed. Mary Magdalene is distraught, huddled at the foot of the cross in tears, one hand clutching Jesus' feet, her other hand across her eyes. Her long blond hair falls to the ground. As I looked at this, doing a little private Bible study, I thought back to the scene from earlier that week when Mary washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair as she anointed Him with nard.

This panel is beautiful. A huge, blood red sun can be seen behind the scene, the sky dark blue as darkness descended as Christ was on the cross.

Moving back outside, this really is a beautiful scene. Off to the west, a field of sheep were hard at work doing whatever it is that they do all day. Given that this is Norfolk, they were probably doing it at a little easier pace than sheep of other counties. A dog barked at me for a few seconds from the gate of a neighbouring farm, then gave up; the effort obviously being too much.

This is an exquisite and historic church in a beautiful, tranquil setting. This ladies and gentlemen, is why I do what I do.

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Detail from the east window at East Lexham church.

We moved on to the neighbouring village of West Lexham, a mile or so away, not surprisingly, to the west. The village here sits half a mile away from the busy A1065, the village itself getting on for six miles north of Swaffham.  The church here sits just off the main road which runs through the village. The church of St Nicholas is another basic structure of round tower, nave with south porch and chancel. Again, there are no aisles or clerestory.

    Entrance to the church is via a path which runs to the south porch from the east. The tower here is not that tall, and is pretty much hidden from view by the chancel as the visitor enters the grounds. The tower comes in to view, and what a sight it is! This is a seriously old tower, thought to date from the late 10th century, dangerous times in those days in this area due to the threat of Viking attacks. 

    The church here was very run down and was extensively restored in the 1880's. The tower itself was also heavily restored as recently as the 1990's, to stop it collapsing. After the work was completed, the tower was rendered and then more recently still, it was painted white.

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The church stands on slightly raised ground, a scattering of gravestones around it, and was open to visitors. Inside, it was bright and welcoming, even on a dull day. The nave and chancel were pretty much rebuilt during the 1880's and we have in effect, a Victorian nave and chancel attached to a roughly 1,000 year old tower!

The chancel is plain, with the alter having a small cross, two candlesticks and some flowers. There is no reredos. An aumbry is set in to the north wall. Internally, there are no frills here, no grand monuments to the great and good of past times, nothing that would live long in the memory to be fair. This is a quiet place, a place to sit and be while the world carries on around it at speed, a place to be alone with your thoughts.

The thought crossed my mind that it would have been good to have had this as my local church during these challenging recent times. A safe, quiet place to retreat in to when things got tough. Without knowing for sure, I suspect that the church here, and its neighbour would have been open as much as they were allowed to, during those socially restricted times. Open and welcoming churches, at a time when we really needed open and welcoming churches!

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The east window is the only stained glass in this church. A fine piece of work, with vibrant colours. It is of three lights, with the centre light being a depiction of Jesus, with orange quatrefoil nimbus; hand raised in blessing. The left hand light, as we look at it has depictions of the nativity and Jesus being presented to Simeon in the temple. The right hand light, depicts Jesus sharing bread with the two that He met on the road to Emmaus after His crucifixion. Above this is the Ascension, with Jesus' feet visible above the clouds, which are supported by angels, with onlookers below including Peter, who holds the key to the kingdom of Heaven.

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Moving back outside I took a closer look at the tower. A single lancet window is set low down to the west. Higher up there are several blocked windows including one circular one, which I thought might be an ancient basket window. This basket work involved a woven basket being set in place in a wall, with the stonework being cemented around it, leaving the open mouth of the basket as the window, the basket itself for the most part being broken away after the stonework had set.

What this tower has stood through during its 1,000 odd years. It was built during the times of Viking attacks; it was here as the world was decimated by the Black Death in the mid 14th century. It has stood through English Civil War and two world wars. It stood through the Bubonic Plague and the Reformation and all of the horrors and upheaval that went with that. It now stands through the current pandemic. A constant in a world of change.