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

St Mary, Barney

Barney: neither big nor purple

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ancient walls ironwork

  St Mary, Barney

When I told my children that I had been to see Barney, they skipped around me gaily, imploring "Oh daddy, tell us more! did you go and see the great big purple dinosaur? What was he like? Did he put you on his knee and sing the 'I love you' song?"

As one of them is a twelve year old boy, whose preferred viewing on any occasion would be the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the seventeenth time, and the other a sophisticated eight year old girl who listens mainly to Jamelia and the Kaiser Chiefs, you might suppose they were doing this in a spirit of irony, poking fun at their old dad. And you'd probably be right. But I was strangely excited as we passed the village sign. What if there really was a great big purple dinosaur?

As it turns out, St Mary is neither big nor purple, and certainly not a dinosaur, but it is very lovely. So much smaller than most of the churches hereabouts, its ancient walls are protected by modern slates, a late medieval tower bridging the two ages. There is an outline of a Saxon doorway inside the porch, and notice also the trade name on the 19th century door handle.

Inside, there is great simplicity, everything seemly and to its purpose. Someone described it to me as stark, but I think it that is a little unfair; the walls are white, the windows fill the church with light. I found it uplifting.

The late medieval font is presumably contemporary with the tower; it is slim and very elegant, carved with sacred monograms and the arms of the local big family of the time. Above, the roof is super, a 15th century delight, silvery with age and with bosses depicting angels, men and flowers. Curious to see this kind of thing on such a small scale.

The south transept was nearly derelict when Mortlock was here in the early 1980s, but today it has been fully restored as the chapel of Corpus Christi and St John, reflecting the Anglo-catholic flavour of most of the churches around here. It is where weekday services take place now, and I thought it was symptomatic of the way in which this little church is so clearly well-used and well-loved. I loved it too. I love you, you love me, we're a happy family... And so on.

Simon Knott, May 2005


seemly and to its purpose font sanctuary south transept, now a prayer chapel
looking west memorial plaque angel glass roof
man in a pointed hat angel angel grotesque
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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk