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St Mary, Bessingham
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Sometimes, things just come together. You travel through dusty, narrow Norfolk lanes on a late afternoon in late summer, when you come to a tiny village that you hadn't heard of, even though it has such a beautiful name. It sits in a sleepy fold in the hills south of Cromer, and at the top of the village is the delight of a small village church with an ancient round tower. Will it be open? Will it be beautiful inside? If so, your discovery will be complete.
The tower of St Mary is authentically Anglo-Saxon - Pevsner compares the bell openings with Haddiscoe, and observes that this is what the tower there might have been like before its later elaboration - but the church beside it is an almost complete rebuild of the 1870s. Well, I tried the door and it was open. With a certain amount of trepidation that I stepped inside, because restorations of this date can be dull, or even awful.
I need not have worried. St Mary benefited in the early 20th century from a sensitive makeover at the hands of the work of the Charles Kempe and Powell & Sons workshops; the windows on the south side and at the east end are so lovely, and the east window in particular is remarkable. On this sunny afternoon the light thrown from the south windows across the nave was breathtaking; you can see it in the middle photograph below. The Powell & Sons glass in the east window shows Christ as Salvator Mundi, the Saviour of the World, attended by bright angels.
There are no great medieval survivals here, no ancient treasures - but the church itself is a treasure and a delight. To be here on a sunny day is like entering into the heart of a precious jewel.
Simon Knott, September 2005
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