NORFOLK DECEMBER 2020
North Creake St Mary - Open
South Creake Our Lady St Mary Open
After leaving Stanhoe, we made the journey of a little less than four miles to North Creake. Fortunately, the fog had lifted a little by the time that we reached here. I was keen to visit, both North and South Creake; these being the last two churches to visit in this part of Norfolk that I love so much.
North Creake is a village between Burnham Market and Fakenham, some five miles from the East Coast. The population was a little under 400 at the time of the 2011 census. To the north of the village is the ruin of Creake Abbey, an Augustinian Abbey which dates back to the early 13th century. No shortage of abbey ruins to be seen throughout the country, but this one is a little different as it had fallen in to ruin before the reformation. A devastating fire in the 14th century and an outbreak of plague in 1508 saw the end of the Abbey; it being abandoned before it would have been dissolved!
The Walsingham’s are a little more than three miles away, a centre of religious pilgrimage after a vision of the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared here in 1061. I have started a book recently about the Black Death of 1348. It speaks of vast numbers of pilgrims from many different villages, who wanted to visit Walsingham to pray to the Virgin Mary for protection from the pestilence that they had heard was coming. It made me wonder how many of these pilgrims went past the church here as they headed towards what they hoped would be deliverance from the coming wrath!
The church of St Mary, North Creake.
The churches at North Creake and at neighbouring south Creake are simply vast. Parts of Norfolk are rich in very large churches, with many of them built on the profits from the wool trade. In medieval times, Norfolk was one of the richest areas in England, with Norwich being England’s second city behind London. The rich of the day would pay for huge churches to be built; for the glory of God but also, to lessen the time that they were to spend in purgatory, the religion of the day being Catholic.
The church of St Mary dates back to the 13th century, with the nave and west tower dating to the 15th century. The square, battlemented tower here is incredibly wide, and not surprisingly, is heavily buttressed as a result. This is one of the most substantial towers that I have ever seen. The rest of the church is proportioned accordingly and the chancel is long and tall, so much so that the chancel virtually obscures the tower when looking at it from the east.
A note was pinned up saying that the church was open for private prayer. I can recall a conversation on a Fecebook church photography page when churches were first allowed to be open after the first lockdown as to whether just visitors were allowed in as well. Well, I wasn’t visiting there today with the express intention of praying, but I hope that no one would ever be turned away and that any entering would be able to find a little peace in their heart, if they need it, in these troubled times.
Moving inside, the attention was taken by a tub font with ornate font cover. The cover was open, showing two scenes; Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist and Jesus surrounded by children. There was freedom of movement throughout the church, with the exception of the pews, which were roped off.
What an impressive interior! The nave is separated from chancel by a rood screen, with another rood separating the north aisle from north chapel. Looking upwards and the church has a fabulous angel roof, which dates from the first half of the 15th century, the time that the nave was built.
This features a series of angels, curiously all wingless, which run down to the chancel. These are beautifully carved, with each one having distinct features from the others. Some hold musical instruments, some hold items involved in Christ’s passion. One hold out a crown of thorns; another has a hammer and nails. Another holds out what appears to be a laurel wreath, symbolic of victory. One angel is holding a small representation of a human figure, thought to symbolise the flight of the soul towards heaven.
A decorative frieze runs on both north and walls of the nave, behind the angels. These have patterns of trefoil and quatrefoil designs, with small angels running the length of the nave. These angels are carved in relief and have wings outstretched. Some hold shield out in front of them, others are at prayer. Again, each carving shows different facial features. Simply stunning!
Over the chancel arch there is the remains of what would have been a doom painting, the day of judgement, now virtually all but faded away. Standing there looking towards the chancel it is worth thinking back to what this must have looked like in the past. Brightly coloured angels running the length of the nave towards the chancel, with the doom at the centre! Jesus would have been central to this, with the souls of the deceased being judged, with those found to be righteous being taken to eternal life in heaven. Those who are condemned would have been depicted being herded off to hell by demons, being thrown naked in to the mouth of hell, which would normally be symbolised in the shape of an open serpent’s mouth!
What a sight that must have been; and what an impression it must have made on the people, in days of superstition and fear, when the church was the central point of people’s lives.
There is some very fine stained glass here, although not of any great age. In one panel the baby Jesus is presented to Simeon and Anna in the temple, the sacrifice of two doves beside them in a cage. An angel points towards heaven on Easter Sunday; He is not here He has risen! Close by the Angel Gabriel appears to The Virgin Mary, with long colourful, brightly coloured wings.
Moving back outside and looking over the fields, it was obvious that the fog was starting to descend again. Daylight was starting to fade early and there was time to take in South Creake before dusk. It was a long wait to finally get here but my word, it was worth the wait!
15th century angel roof at North Creake.
A mile and a half off to the south, and five miles north west of Fakenham, is Our Lady of St Mary, South Creake. A pleasant village, even on a foggy, cold winter afternoon! The river Burn flows through the centre of the village. A historical area; with an iron age hill fort on the wonderfully named Bloodgate Hill to be found on the edge of the village.
Another hugely impressive church! The tower is square and a little odd at the top, almost seems as if it is incomplete. Perhaps finances were an issue back in time despite the evident wealth here. . As with its neighbour, the sheer size of it is incredible and it is heavily buttressed also as a result. Looking at the church from the south east, with its pleasing perpendicular nave and lovely proportions; this is a very beautiful church.
There is a bench placed half way along the south nave. It was certainly not the weather for sitting on that today but I could well imagine how pleasing this would be, sitting here on a warm summer evening, just watching the world go past in this very beautiful and delightfully slow paced part of Norfolk, which I hold such an affection for.
The church of Our Lady St Mary, South Creake.
Making my way up to the south porch, there are a cluster of gravestones of some age. A couple have some interesting symbolism. A winged hour glass symbolises the passing of time, Tempus Fugit; Man is mortal and will die. Its neighbour has a human bone and a trumpet on it. This is an interesting combination. In medieval times it was believed that the skull and the main bones such as thigh bones had to be preserved for the deceased to be resurrected on the final day. Here we have an 18th century homage to that. A statement for all to see that the deceased had lived a good Christian life and will be resurrected on the final day! Two important messages to those making their way to church, told in symbol form as most would not have been able to read or write.
The south porch has an image niche, with a relatively modern depiction of St Mary. The original would have been taken out during the reformation. Crowned initials and shields are to be seen either side of the niche; I am assuming that these are from the donors who paid for the church to be built.
The earliest parts of the church here date back to the 13th century, but as with neighbouring North Creake, most of the work here came about in the 15th century. I wonder if there was inter village rivalry here, with regards who would have the biggest church!
The church was open and inside there was a slightly odd feel at first as there were no chairs set out. The chairs were stacked up against the north wall of the nave. The feel for a second was like wandering in to a Churches Conservation Trust church where the pews had been taken out. It is a very spacious interior to start with, as you would imagine, but this made it feel even larger.
But this church is very much in use! Standing at the west end and looking to the east, there is a chancel alter and communion rails with very ancient wine glass pulpit to the north slightly. A rood screen separates nave from chancel and a modern carving of Christ crucified, Mary and John to either side, at the top of the chancel arch.
There is quite a collection of medieval stained glass to be seen here on the north side of the church. One panel appears out of place with the rest, a panel showing Christ being scourged prior to crucifixion, appears to be possibly from Germany and probably a couple of hundred years younger than the rest. Some beautiful and important glass here, with a badly damaged depiction of the crucifixion, with a burst of fire radiating out from Christ as he lies bleeding on the cross being particularly striking.
Another design shows a similar scene, with blazing fire surrounding the crucifixion scene. Jesus’ head is missing on this one but a replacement head was found and used instead. It is interesting to see that angels in this part of Norfolk are sometimes depicted with a coat of feathers on their body. This is the case here with some and it reminded me of one of my favourite medieval glass panels in Norfolk, at Cockthorpe, just a few miles away.
As with its neighbour there is a fine 15th century angel roof here; brightly coloured angels, this time with wings, again holding items of Christ’s passion. More than one is at prayer with over sized hands. Large hands was sometimes used as a symbol for piety; the larger the hands, the more pious the person. Angels here come in two colours, red and green; this being the colour of the wings. These colours were alternated throughout the length of the nave. Again, the quality is simply stunning.
So, within a space of a mile and a half we have two of the finest parish churches in the county. I left here having photographed around 220 Norfolk churches. There are many fine memories of time spent here; many fine churches seen and cheese scones eaten! This had been a particularly fine churchcrawl, seeing some of the finest that Norfolk had to offer on a day when I needed to get out and escape. Yes, it was pretty cold, frosty and foggy but it was a chance to get out! As I was putting this piece together I received a Christmas card which read “this was the year that the wheelie bins went out more than we did” Quite true; we all needed to appreciate our times out during this year and I certainly appreciated this one.