Norfolk October 2021
Mid October 2021 and a return visit to the church of St Mary The Virgin, Sedgeford. This was my third visit to this beautiful church and the first time that I had found it open. My first visit here was in the early days of my interest in churches. This was back in 2007 and I walked the backroads from Snettisham to Sedgeford on a gloriously warm Saturday afternoon. The church was closed that day, as it was in December 2020, when to be fair there were still many churches closed to visitors due to the pandemic. A quick check in advance that the church would be open this time and it was a case of third time lucky.
The church of St Mary the Virgin consists of round west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north and south porches, south transept and chancel. The round west tower has an octagonal top and is enclosed at ground level by the western bays of the north and south aisles. A gravel path leads up to the south porch, flower beds to the sides of the path still showing some late season colour. Entry was through the north porch, which is of similar large proportions, and which has an empty image niche at the apex, which would have contained a statue of the Virgin Mary prior to the reformation.
This is an impressive church, as so many are in Norfolk. The walls of the nave and chancel are very high, but the chancel itself at a first glance appears truncated; more of that later. Six large clerestory windows can be seen to north and south sides.
There was a Saxon village here a few hundred yards away, which would have had a small church. The church that we see today was rebuilt from around 1300 but the foundation from a previous structure on this site were uncovered during renovation work in 2016.
A service had not long finished when I arrived, and I was made welcome by some friendly folk. There are impressive six bay arcades to north and south; a Victorian screen separates nave from chancel, replacing an earlier one. A carving of Christ crucified sits atop the screen. The initial thoughts about the chancel being shortened at some point proved to be true, In the 1770's, parts of the chancel were close to collapse and the chancel was shortened by 17 feet.
The light quality outside was poor and I was grateful for the church lights to be on. I don't normally like to photograph with them on but needs must sometimes. This was a really pleasant time spent looking around the church, accompanied by the buzz of conversation and laughter from the folks clearing up after the service.
There is some fine quality stained glass to be seen here. The fine east window has Christ in Majesty as the focal point. Christ is crowned, robed and holding a globe; golden flames radiating out from His shoulders. He is framed by angels heads and wings. To either side are a heavenly band of musicians. Underneath this is a small depiction of the nativity, with further depictions of the Virgin Mary, holding Lilies; a symbol of purity and John who is accompanied by an eagle, which is his symbol.
There is also a beautiful representation of the Transfiguration. Jesus appears top centre in shimmering white, with Moses and Elijah to either side; all three figures are also framed with angels heads and wings, all of the angels attention though is focused towards Jesus. In the tower is a small two light window depicting Martha and Mary.
The glass here is of superb quality with some courtesy of architect and stained glass craftsman Frederick Preedy, whose work I had seen at Ingoldisthorpe, Old Hunstanton and Hunstanton the previous week, and would see at Burnham Deepdale in about half an hours time!
For me, some of the most interesting things to see in churches are simply the mark of the common man. Names and dates of people long since passed, who in most cases would exist solely as a name in the parish register. Wiilliam Cram left his mark here in 1665, along with his title of 'parish clarke'. It is the year here that makes this one. 1665 was one the main plague years in this country, with the bubonic plague rampant in many areas. I wonder what the situation was in the area as he carved his name in that terrible year. Thoughts turned to the Latin graffiti at Acle in Norfolk, written on to a wall during the Black Death of 1348, part of this reads 'Oh lamentable death, how many dost thou cast into the pit!'. Thoughts also turned to Imogen, who wrote her name and date in 2020, another plague year, at Temple Bruer in Lincolnshire; this one though written in chalk is liable to be less long lasting.
Close to this graffiti I was interested to see an elaborate circular design carved in to the wall. These 'hexfoil' designs are the subject of much debate and it is suggested that they are a kind of apotropaic mark, which were designed to trap evil spirits and protect those inside the church.
There are a good number of eighteenth century gravestones to be found here, several of which feature the deaths head, a depiction of a human skull which was designed to convey the message to the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die. One is of particular interest as it features a central winged character which could be Old Father Time. To the right as we look at it is the human skull; Old Father Time holds an hourglass, 'Tempus Fugit' Time flies. The sands of time have run out for the deceased and one day they will run out for you. So, as Jesus says in several of His parables, Be Prepared! Father Times feet rest on a serpent with its tail in its mouth. This is an ouroboros, a quite often used symbol for eternity. The eternal reward for those deemed to be righteous on the final day. Perhaps this being included here can also be seen as a testimony as to the faith of the deceased.
I enjoyed my time here very much, a mere 14 years between visits; there's no point in rushing things! We moved on, with if anything the sky getting even darker and the promised sunshine from late morning onwards looking distinctly remote! We arrived at the church of St Mary, Burnham Deepdale just as a few spots of rain were starting to fall.
It was good to see the church open sign out, by the church gate. It had been interesting to see the churches gradually open up over the months following the lockdowns. I travelled when allowed during 2020 and the vast majority were closed, even in open and welcoming Norfolk. The situation had improved an in a five day stay in the area at the end of September 2021 I found 21 churches open out of 23 visited. It was like pre covid days again.
Burnham Deepdale is a small village which can be found a mile and a half west of Burnham Market. Deepdale merges in to Brancaster Staithe, with the parish church of St Mary serving both villages. The church here sits right at the side of the busy coast road which wends its way through these picturesque coastal villages. This church will, I am sure, be well attended by tourists with the coastliner bus, in which I have spent many pleasant hours over the years, dropping off literally just at the side of the church.
The exquisite round tower, has some real history to it, being built pre Norman conquest, at some point before 1066. The church here consists of west tower, nave with north aisle, south porch, chancel and north vestry. The rest of the church was pretty much completely rebuilt in Victorian times, under the direction of Frederick Preedy who was mentioned earlier.
The church here is notable for a remarkable font and some important medieval stained glass. The 12th century Norman font is made out of Barnack stone, which was quarried from the village of Barnack near to Peterborough. It's a long way from home! In 1797 it was broken while being moved from the north aisle and was taken to Fincham Rectory for repair. It stayed there in the garden of the Rectory for forty years before it was finally restored and placed in its present position. This font sits just to the side of the south porch. It has 12 individual scenes, with each scene representing a month. Each scene has a single character doing a job, or resting, associated with that month, with the exception of December which has four characters carved on to it. A light switch close to the south door allows the interested visitor to see the font lit up.
The scenes are as follows. January shows a man drinking from a horn. In February's scene, the figure is seated in a chair. March sees him digging with a long handled spade, whilst in April the figure is pruning. In May the figure is waving a banner at Rogation tide. During June he is hard at work weeding and July sees him cutting down hay with a scythe. August is depicted with him bundling up corn with him threshing the corn in September.
The panel for October shows the man filling a wine barrel, whilst in November he is slaughtering a pig. December sees four people seated at a table. Possibly having Christmas dinner? The 12 individual scenes are on three of the four sides of the font, the fourth side, the west side, just has carvings of plants. Across the top of three of the sides are carvings of lions.
Moving on to the medieval glass and starting with a trinity glass panel showing Father Son and Holy Spirit. The image of God looks down over Jesus, hanging on a cross, with the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, coming down over the cross. The scene is surrounded by blazing light with the trinity panel being the focal point of a window which is otherwise made up of glass fragments.
Another window, in the south porch, has an image of the moon at the top, with the rest of the window again being made up of small fragments, including several pieces of gold crowns. The moon has been given human features and has a beautiful serene expression.
A window to the west has a figure of Mary Magdalene, carrying a jar of pure nard, dressed in a pink robe and surrounded by blue. Above her is a depiction of a censing angel, an angel who would dispense incense, and is pictured in the act of swinging an incense burner. Elsewhere, a small female head, crowned and haloed, is set against a sheaf of arrows. This indicates that it is a depiction of St Ursula who, legend states, was shot dead by Huns who were besieging Cologne in around 383AD.
The more modern stained glass is of great quality and would date from the time of the rebuilding. The east window is of three lights. The left hand panel as we look at it depicts Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, just prior to His crucifixion. The disciples lay asleep at Jesus' feet as an angel hands Him the cup from which He is to drink.
The central panel depicts the crucifixion. Jesus is crucified wearing the crown of thorns. By the cross stand the Mary the mother of Jesus and John; with Mary Magdalene huddled at the foot of the cross. The sky behind them is blood red. A powerful image. Other stained glass includes a depiction of the nativity, with the shepherds on the scene including one who has brought a sheep with him draped around his shoulders!
A single panel of Jesus is very striking! Jesus wears a red robe and has His hand raised in blessing. He has a nimbus coloured in red and blue. This really stands out as the background is monochrome. Fabulous!
We moved on, heading inland towards Fakenham, hoping to see inside the church of St Mary, Syderstone. I first visited this one in December 2020. Covid rates were going up and it was pretty obvious that we were going to be locked down in the near future. The church here was closed to visitors on that day and was closed again a few months later when I tried again. As with Sedgeford, it was third time lucky with the church being open.
From the exterior, it is obvious that this church has led a hard life. Looking at the exterior from the south there are the outlines of arches which would have been a south aisle. Moving around to the north there again there is evidence of a north aisle. Again, the arches were bricked over and this time windows were added, which have subsequently also been bricked in. A north door is also bricked in, leaving the entire north side of the nave windowless. The British Listed Buildings website states that the church here was originally cruciform in structure; aisles and transepts having been taken down, and there having been a central tower originally, the original structure dating from the 12th century.
The church sits close to the main road through the village, a narrow path leading up to the round tower. A bench is positioned at the foot of the tower. A very pleasant place to sit and be still for a while, but possibly not on that day though with a few spots of rain continuing to fall. Entry is via a door to the west side of the tower. an image niche above containing a beast of some description.
Moving inside and it was pretty dark inside, which considering the lack of windows on the north side and the dullness of the day outside is not surprising. What we have is a long, very narrow nave leading to chancel. The bricked up arches to the north have memorial plaques put up on them, there are windows, including a little stained glass in the bricked up arches to the south.
The east window is interesting. High up in the tracery is a representation of the nativity. Interestingly, Mary is depicted without Joseph, crouched alone in prayer over the baby Jesus, a cross behind her; flames radiating out from her. Underneath this angels are celebrating, 'Glory to God in the highest On earth peace and goodwill toward men' being written on banners being carried by the angels.
Other stained glass here include one representation of Jesus in the temple as a young boy, one of the very few Biblical accounts of Jesus' childhood, Here He sits on the floor, fingers pointing upwards towards Heaven. The elders of the temple consult their scrolls and look at Jesus with a mixture of interest and confusion. Close by. Jesus is presented to the temple, being held by Simeon, with Anna looking on, sacrificial doves ready in a basket. Joseph is depicted on this one standing back from the other three adult characters. A deliberate statement? Possibly Am I reading too much in to things at times? Probably!
An interesting church, a bit battered and bruised, and showing the scars of a hard life. Beautiful though, even on a dull and slightly drizzly day and I enjoyed seeing this obe very much.