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

St Mary, Bridgham

Bridgham: a pleasingly curious shape

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imposing south porch west end after the tower obviously once a round tower nave v chancel 

    St Mary, Bridgham
one of Norfolk's most beautiful fonts   Bridgham is one of those sprawling Norfolk villages a little off the beaten track which are always a pleasure to visit. And St Mary too, is a delight, and rather different to most other medieval churches in appearance. Its pleasing and curious shape is a result of the buffeting of the centuries.

The tower has gone, and the west end now sports a high dutch-style gable with a bell turret. There is an imposing red-brick and flushwork porch in what can only be described as a Suffolk style, and the chancel has been rebuilt higher than the nave. Its red tiles contrast with the slates of the nave to create an overall effect which I liked very much. As I say, it is quite unusual.

The narrow upright lines that survive on the west wall suggest that this was a round tower, and the filled-in tower arch shows that it was probably of the 13th century. Altogether, this is a quirky, homely exterior, and that porch is really quite something.

We'd come here on bike ride day, so we expected the church to be open, and in the event there was a huge sign out on the road saying CHURCH OPEN and WELCOME! which I thought was brilliant. And the man on duty inside was very welcoming, and obviously proud of the church. He knew a bit about it, too, which is always good, but I got the impression that he was mostly keen for us to see it because he knew it to be beautiful and prayerful. It would not be possible to go into Bridgham church without realising that it was the House of God.

Bridgham has one of the most interesting fonts in Norfolk. It is made of a white, chalky stone, and has traces of its original colour. It appears eroded as much as defaced, and is remarkable for two of its panels. That to the west shows the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. This is very rare, and only occurs once elsewhere on a font in East Anglia. The Assumption was the great late summer feast of the late medieval Catholic Church in England; its celebration on August 15th coincided with the height of the harvest. Perhaps two hundred churches in East Anglia were dedicated to the Assumption. However, it was heavily frowned upon by the protestant reformers, and the Assumption does not appear in Anglican doctrine. The image of the Assumption is consequently one of the most haunting survivals. It rarely survived at all in glass, but can be found in stone bosses in Several Norfolk churches, including Wymondham Abbey.

The eastern panel has another rare image, that of the Holy Trinity. This is the traditional medieval composition of an old man as God the Father, holding the crucified Christ as the Son, with a dove descending to represent the Holy Spirit. This is found on a couple of other East Anglian fonts, most famously at Acle, and also occasionally in stained glass. Other panels feature angels holding shields.

font from the west font from the east Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit Assumption of the Blessed Virgin 

The double piscina and sedilia are rather good, too. The other medieval survival of significance here is the dado of the rood screen, painted in red, green and gold with simple patterns. It must have been a very sturdy example when it was complete. The east window rises delicately to a froth of Decorated tracery, and is enhanced by containing clear glass. There is some fairly good late 19th century glass in other windows, although the image of Christ asking that the children be allowed to come unto him is a bit wooden - it rather looks as if Jesus and the mother are playing with dolls.

Somewhat more dramatic at the west end of the church are the two surviving figures from the old decalogue boards. Aaron and Moses look very grand and austere, and almost Spanish in style. It is rare to see them so close up, a rather awe-inspiring sight.

   

Simon Knott, September 2006

looking east looking west screen dado panels Aaron Moses
'suffer the children to come unto me' - detail Aaron and Moses dado rail of the screen
Faith and Hope 'follow me' 'suffer the children to come unto me'


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