Bale Bayfield Field Dalling Glandford Holt Saxlingham

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

All Saints, Bale

Bale - a church dwarfed by trees

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Through the ilexes Large image niche in the west wall of the tower

    All Saints, Bale

As big as a Bale oak, they say; well, the oak has now gone, removed in 1869 when it became unsafe, but the National Trust maintains the grove of ilexes that replaced it, forming a majestic foil to All Saints which lies immediately to the east. The Bale Oak, thirty six metres in circumference, must have quite dwarfed it.

All Saints may be small, but it is full of Decorated confidence, and was probably finished on the eve of the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century. The chancel is slightly older than the rest, and, curiously, there is a north transept, which may suggest that another was planned. All around, the windows have gorgeous, flowing tracery. There is a fine image niche in the west side of the tower.

You might think then that nothing else happened here, that the 15th and 16th centuries were silent. That may be so, but this church has a great treasure that dates from those late medieval centuries. This is a stunning collection of Norwich School stained glass in one of the south nave windows.

This collection is notable because it features all or part of no less than five separate Annunciation scenes, the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to inform her of her pregnancy. The two minor lights at the top of the central main light features one scene, Mary in a blue desk kneeling at her prayer desk, Gabriel with feathered legs in a red robe. The two minor lights to the left feature one part of another Annunciation, Mary reading at her prayer desk. The other figure, however, is St James the Less. Those to the right feature two angels.

The three main lights are also topped by angels, and each light features three main panels, one above the other. Reading across from left to right, let us call the top three panels I, II and III, the middle three IV, V and VI, the bottom three VII, VIII and IX.

Panels I and II feature the best Annunciation scene. Gabriel in I is a sturdy figure in green and white robes with brown feathered wings. He appears to be carrying a sword, and his scroll begins Maria Plena (Mary, full (of Grace)). Mary in II is standing, wearing a gorgeous red dress with lilies, a rosary tied around her waist. She is holding the scriptures, and her scroll begins Ecce Ancilla (behold the handmaiden). In III is a bearded figure, who could be a prophet but I think is a Saint, and I think probably St Luke, although I can't make out the words on the scroll.

Two angel musicians appear in IV; one plays a lute. In V are two figures in what appears to be a Biblical scene. I wondered if it was the Prodigal Son, but Tom tells me that Woodforde, a man with more time and learning than me, transcribed the scrolls as firstly ascendit reptas maibus et pedibus. j.reg'. xiii: (1 Samuel 16:13, Ascendit autem ionothas manibus et pedibus reptans), and secondly post ebdomadesexagitaduas occidet' zpc. daniel. ix: (Daniel 9:26, et post hebdomades sexigenta duasoccidetur Christus.)   So possibly they are Samuel and Daniel. Fragments of three angel musicians appear in VI; one plays a harp, another a lute.

The best single figure is the Mary in scene VII. She stands at a prayer desk, a pot of lilies at her feet, while the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove flies full force into her face. In VIII, a curious collection; a faceless but apparently female Saint carries a crozier (Etheldreda?) while behind is what may be Catherine's wheel. To the right is an awesome crucifixion scene. The fifth Mary appears in panel IX, an insipid repeat of the same composition in VII. You can see these panels below.

Those Annunciations in full I: Gabriel II: Mary III: Saint (Luke?) IV: Angels
V: Biblical scene (Prodigal Son?) VI: Angels VII: Mary VIII (detail): Crucifixion IX: Mary

The glass is stunning. I have some large format images of each panel (1200x1600, much too big to put on a website!) and I have spent ages looking at them, they are so compelling. I am going to risk my opinion and say that I do not think this glass came from this church originally. I think this is a private collection, probably made by some gentleman of leisure with antiquarian leanings in the later years of the 18th century. Probably, he bought glass from churches in the Norwich area from Rectors who were glad to have the money for repairs. After his death, or at any rate some time in the mid-19th century, the glass was set here, to be assembled in this window in 1938. Why do I think this? Simply, because I do not think it is credible that there were so many Annunciation scenes in a single church, and that they all survived where almost all other subjects didn't. However, the shields at the bottom are heraldically connected to local Lords of the Manor.

Also worthy of note are the St Christopher wall painting and those vast consecration crosses on the east wall of the transept; the font with its instruments of the Passion, and another of those recycled royal arms. These are relettered for George I, but the date remains unchanged from 1698 - in any case, the arms date from perhaps sixty years even before that.

All Saints is a super little church; one of the most interesting small churches I have come across in this part of Norfolk.

Simon Knott, November 2004

You can also read: Our Daily Bread: some ordinary Norfolk churches


St Christopher Consecration cross Piscina Sanctuary Font
Annunciation scene at the top of the window Royal Arms - a moveable feastLooking west

Bale Bayfield Field Dalling Glandford Holt Saxlingham

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk