NORFOLK  JULY 2021

Ovington   St John The Evangelist  -  Open
Saham Toney  St George  -  Open
Ashill  St Nicholas   -   Open

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It was a beautiful Saturday in July, shirt sleeve weather; an ideal day to be out with the camera. The local youth were congregating in numbers in the rivers locally, the slightly older, at least in this car, were exploring churches to the north of Watton, in Norfolk and had reached Ovington, which is a mile or so north east of Watton.

Sometimes the historic delights of a church are hidden until you stumble upon them. Not so here, with a magnificent Norman south doorway standing out as the visitor approaches the church from the south.

There is no south porch here, so the full glory is on display from a distance! The church here consists of a square tower, with stair turret to south east corner, a two light window to the west face; belfry windows to the other sides. A small pyramid roof sits atop the tower.

The south door dates back to the 12th century, at the same time that this church was founded. There is a triangular water stoup set against the right hand side of the door. The nave and chancel each have steeply pitched tile roofs.

We are quite close to civilisation here, with the village hall close by. There were the distant shouts of children playing and a lady walking a friendly dog, but that was it! Looking at the photographs of the exterior, we could have been miles from anywhere.

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The church was open which proved to be pretty much the way of it in this friendly and welcoming part of Norfolk. This is a small, beautiful structure. No bells and whistles here! No aisles, no clerestories, no chancel arch, with nave flowing seamlessly in to chancel. No need! Less is more sometimes.

The three light east window has a depiction of the crucifixion; ‘It Is Finished’ reads the text at the bottom. A human skull sits at the foot of the cross; Golgotha, the place of a skull.

The font here is worth noting. It dates back to the 14th century and has images of each of the four evangelists projecting out. Each of the four has been beheaded, with the damage occurring I daresay during the reformation.

I always find it interesting trying to imagine the scene, back in the mid 16th century, in this idyllic little Norfolk village, when the iconoclasts vented their anger on things that for many generations would have been an important part of their everyday lives. Curious times… Back outside, many of the gravestones to the south are set in to completely straight lines and a bench set against the south wall of the nave is an ideal spot to watch the world go by; not that much of it was liable to pass by here.

This is a little gem! I enjoyed visiting this church very much.

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We made the short journey west to Saham Toney, with its impressive church, dedicated to St George, which dates back to the 13th century. The church here is set alongside the main road which runs through the village.

The church here is a real statement piece. The impressive 15th century tower is pinnacled and battlemented, with the latter having a cut out quatrefoil design in them. The tower has flushwork buttressing and a frieze across the bottom of the tower is carved with coats of arms of the benefactors who financed the building.

The church clock faces out from the south wall of the tower and finely carved angels can be seen at the four corners of the tower.

The church here is dedicated to St George and a carving of St George slaying the dragon can be seen in the spandrels above the west door.

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The church was open to visitors, with a sign up saying that ‘you are most welcome to visit’.  Entry was through the south door and double decker south porch.

This is an impressive church. It is always worth noting that the churches at this time were not built in accordance to the village population. They were often built on a much grander scale; with the bigger the church meaning less time spent in purgatory for the donor and his family in those pre reformation days when Catholicism was the state religion.

There was a large restoration here in Victorian times and much of the fixtures and fitting date from that period.

There is a lot of stained glass here, with some fine work on show. The east window has a depiction of the Last Supper, with brightly coloured and perpendicular patterns and shield up in the tracery, with some of the shields showing instruments of Christ’s passion. This one just didn’t do it for me. Jesus sat alone in the centre of the table, with the other disciples plus Mary Magdalene almost jumbled up together!

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Two beautifully crafted two light windows depict the annunciation and Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning. In the former, the Virgin Mary looks shocked; not surprisingly as the angel Gabriel appears. In the latter, Mary Magdalene has her eyes opened and realises that it is the risen Christ that she is talking to ‘Rabboni’ she says as she drops to her knees.

A beautiful telling of the nativity picks up when the shepherds arrive to worship the baby Jesus; the scene below being watched by golden haired and golden winged angels, who are looking down from any vantage point. At the highest point of the tracery, two angels hold a sign which reads’ To us a child is born’ and just below that, a Heavenly band of angel musicians play a variety of instruments. Exquisite!

The resurrection is covered as well; Jesus rises up in to the clouds, flanked by angels, with wounds visible on hands and feet. The disciples plus Mary the Mother of Jesus are below, at prayer as He is taken up.

There is a delightful series of carved bench ends depicting lions. Many of us have been kept amused during these challenging covid times by fundraiser Hercule Van Wolfwincle and his ‘rubbish’ pet portraits. Well, the lions here have a wide variety of expressions; some really grumpy and the manes are carved tight to the body, so that they almost seem to be an item of tight fitting clothes! I just wondered if Hercule had relatives in Norfolk, back in the 15th century! A delightful church and it was good to have been able to visit it.

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We headed off a couple of miles to the north west, to Ashill, a larger village which had a population of just over 1400 at the time of the 2011 census; the village to be found between Watton and Swaffham.

Doing a little background research for this page (yes, amazingly this is not just thrown together, even though it might seem like it) I came across the name Bartholomew Edwards. He was Vicar here at the church of St Nicholas for a mighty 76 years, from 1813 until 1889, passing away whilst still vicar here, eight days short of his 100th birthday. His funeral was held the day after what would have been his 100th birthday.

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The church here is dedicated to St Nicholas and dates back to the 14th century. Walking up the path which leads to the south porch, I took in the exterior. As with its neighbour, this is another impressive flint church. The west tower dates from the early 14th century, and is square, buttressed and battlemented; a little less tall than its neighbour and unlike its neighbour it does not have the coats of arms of the donors on it.

The nave has a south aisle and clerestory, but there is no north aisle. The south porch dates from the 15th century, and is a double decker with room above, with a small empty image niche between doorway and first floor window. The chancel is long with a north vestry.

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The church was open to visitors, but the chancel was closed off. This is another church of impressive dimensions, with the south arcade being of six bays.

There is some fine quality glass in the chancel that I could not photograph. The east window has the crucifixion as the centre panel of three, whilst on the south wall of the chancel Jesus reinstates Peter after he denied knowing Him and the risen Christ appears to Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter morning.

The real treasures here though are up on the north wall, in plain sight, with five medieval stained glass panels. These are what is left from what would have been a series covering the four evangelists, Matthew Mark, Luke and John; with Mark and John surviving, with the latter now sporting a woman’s head.

 There is also what is left of a series covering the Four Latin Doctors of the Catholic Church; St Augustine, St Gregory, St Ambrose and St Jerome, with the latter two surviving.

The fifth panel is not belonging to either of the two sets, this being of seated figure writing on a parchment with a quill.

What we see today is what is left after the destruction of the reformation, where stained glass; among other things, was destroyed as being idolatrous. The Four Doctors of the Catholic Church would have been particularly hated by the reformers, and often what we see remaining is what has been pieced back together later in history in calmer times.

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Looking upwards, there are some interesting wooden carvings up in the roof of the nave. These figures are winged and hold shields out with family crests on them. One is crowned and dressed in chainmail armour. All appear quite creepy, up there in the shadows, holding their shields out with skeletal fingers!

The font is 14th century and octagonal, with quatrefoil and shield designs on the bowl itself. However, there is more of interest lower down with a winged figure wearing a ruff at prayer, a green man with a scarcity of teeth and a bearded figure that appears to be asleep.

This is a fine church. It was getting really warm; it was a little past lunchtime and we headed off in search of an ice cream and I daresay, deep down in our hears, slightly envious of the kids enjoying themselves in the river that we passed earlier!