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St Mary Magdalene, Beetley
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Here we are in what I have come to think of as the black hole of Norfolk, the Gressenhall area, where most of the churches seem to be locked with no keyholder. We arrived at Beetley to find there was scaffolding against the chancel wall, and so I gave it the benefit of the doubt and assumed that it was only locked because of repairs. However, other Norfolk church explorers have told me that this is not so, and that Beetley church is commonly kept locked without a hint of a welcome.
There can be no excuse for this, of course, any more than there can be for it also being true of Gressenhall, Wendling, Great Fransham, Scarning and a few others. Beetley is a large village, and this is not a remote church. Perhaps the congregation is so tiny now that they cannot find anyone to be a churchwarden or a keyholder. Or perhaps there is a churchwarden, but it is someone who doesn't trust us, or who simply can't be bothered to find a way to let us in. No doubt someone will contact me and tell me.
Until then, all I can tell you is that this is a fairly large, now aisleless church of the Decorated period which is actually rather pretty, and could be well thought of by church explorers if it were allowed to be known by them. Mortlock, who got to see inside back in the good old days of the early Eighties, found much to interest him.
I always feel sorry for communities like Beetley, which I feel are ill-served by their parish churches. A church should be accessible to anyone who needs it, and I am prepared to concede the case for a keyholder notice.
A Catholic Priest I spoke to in Dereham, a couple of miles off, delighted to visit medieval churches and pray for the reconciliation of Christians in them. He was not from Norfolk, but had a real passion for the county, and loved its medieval churches, most of which are open every day, of course. But he despaired of those in the immediate vicinity. "It is scandalous, I think" he told me. "How could anyone dare to lock the people out of the House of God?"
Simon Knott, September 2006
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