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All Saints, Brandon Parva

Brandon Parva

Brandon Parva Brandon Parva

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All Saints, Brandon Parva

This poor, lonely church sits on its own at the end of a half mile track from the Barnham Broom to Mattishall road. When I first came here back at the start of the century it was overgrown and apparently abandoned, and yet someone loved it, because coming back in 2006 the graveyard had been cleared of years of overgrowth, gravestones recovered and laid out in a line, and work has begun on restoring the structure of the building to something like a sound state.There is no village, and the entire parish has barely a dozen houses. But it is a handsome church, and if it was surrounded by houses it would be easy to love, despite the years of neglect that have left it feeling sad and empty.

All Saints is a great barn of a building, and there is little heating, and of course no electricity. Because of this, even now it is only used in summer, and coming here on a winter's day it may still feel abandoned. You step into a wide open nave with a striking tower arch at the west end. Trailing vines entwine around the hood mould, and the whole piece sits on two massive heads. The arch is surmounted by one of those scriptural quotes so beloved of the evangelical movement in the second half of the 19th century, and there are others scattered around the church, looking rather out of place in these modern days of quiet Anglican spirituality.

The nave is dominated by the large memorial to John Warner in the south-east corner, his bones tied up in a winding sheet at the bottom. John died in 1702, and below on the wall is a very early post-Reformation painted wall memorial to his ancestor Richard Warner, who deceased the tenth daye of Maye 1587. On the floor in front of it is a fragment of a brass inscription. It seems to be made of two separate pieces, and so is probably a palimpsest, the back of a previously reused brass. It is obviously pre-Reformation, because it asks us in Latin to pray for the soul of Christian Buck and to commend his soul to Almighty God.

The off-centre chancel (was there a south aisle once?) is dominated by a curious east window. The upper lights of the Decorated tracery are crammed in under a flattened arch. Mortlock thought it was Victorian, but I think it must be earlier, because it isn't shoddy as much as inarticulate. It looks like a confection of the 18th Century. You can see from outside that the wall has been rebuilt at sometime with ragstone rather than flint, which probably explains its current bulge. It is not an East Anglian material. The glass dates from the early 20th Century, and depicts St Peter and St Paul; flanking the Baptism of Christ. They are all rather stern-faced and severe, I fear.

However, it was definitely the Victorians who reroofed the chancel, and this is of a high quality, and a thorough imitation of the medieval nave roof - the same people couldn't possibly have been responsible for that window tracery! Two bosses that are generally assumed to have come from the old roof are on the organ and the Priest's chair. One depicts the pelican in its piety, feeding its chicks on blood, and the other a rather alarming dove coming into land. I am going to be a real killjoy and say that I don't believe these carvings are medieval at all, but probably early 20th century creations set on old backing bosses.

When I first visited this church I had recently received an e-mail from someone saying that a church only came alive when there was a service on. I had disagreed. Our medieval churches are folk museums and touchstones to the people of the past, their lives and their liturgies, a hand reached out to our friends and family down the long generations. The modern liturgy of the Church of England is just a passing fancy, and this has been true in any age of course. To be honest, I always find services a bit of a distraction. But here at Brandon Parva I thought that this was a building that cried out for human company. Whatever our final destiny may be, I am sure that it was never intended that we should be alone.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east sanctuary looking west
1702 I acknowledge One Baptism for the Remission of sins battle of the bulge
John Tidd, 1758 chose to have his remains deposited in this church Pelican in her Piety pleasant and lovely in his life
bones in a winding sheet orate pro anima Christiane Buk
sanctuary the soldiers of Brandon Parva
and when my voice is lost in death

   
               
                 

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