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St Mary, Banham
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We came to this large, prosperous south Norfolk village late on a December afternoon, and although I knew this to be a friendly, welcoming church, I wondered if we would be too late to find it open. We needn't have worried. Although the church had been prepared for a concert that evening, it was still open to visitors. But the light was failing fast, and knowing that St Mary is remarkable for both the quantity and quality of its late 19th and early 20th century glass, I was impatient to see inside.
We parked on the elegant village green, more a square really, away from the bustle of Banham Zoo, one of Norfolk's major tourist attractions. The famous view of St Mary is from this green; the village sign, and the war memorial, and then that magnificent spire lifting to heaven. It rises more than 40 metres, and is made of ribbled lead, very similar to that over the border at Hadleigh in Suffolk. The church is pretty much all of a piece, early 14th century; Mortlock thought this was a super church, and even forgave the Victorians for the east window which he thought somewhat excessive in its exuberant version of Decorated forms, but nonetheless very striking, and complementing the wealth of flowing tracery.
And so to the inside. It is like stepping into a large, well-kept jewel. Although, inevitably, there was a massive Victorian restoration here, there is still a feeling of simplicity, with brick floors and simple furninshings, all overshadowed by a magnificent west end organ. High above, a gorgeous roof bears the date 1622, and the little George III royal arms look like a postage stamp above the high tower arch.
In the fading light it was hard to appreciate the wealth of surviving Decorated details in fleurons and quatrefoils, and we even missed the wooden effigy of a knight, so this is a place to go back to sooner rather than later. This, then is a brief temporary entry which I hope to expand on later in the Spring.
Until then, imagine us in the darkening nave. All around, the wonderful glass glimmered in the low winter sunlight. It really is very good: a magnificent crucifixionin the east window by Powell & sons - Pevsner says the artist is JR Clayton in 1857 - a fascinating and unusual Christ with Mary of Magdala and Judas Iscariot by Henry Holiday the same workshop, a gorgeous St John and a camp pink St Mark by Kempe & co, and what appears to be a Flemish Madonna and child reset on the north side. Perhaps most striking of all, in the south-east corner is a very modern though wholly traditional risen Christ wandering an English landscape, Jerusalem builded here; the trees spring with blossom and the sheep safely graze at his feet. As the afternoon deepened, the windows around darkened, like stars fading; and this was the last to go out.
Simon Knott, December 2006
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