Barton Turf Catfield Irstead Ludham Ranworth Upton

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

All Saints, Catfield

Catfield: a sea of stones in a meadow

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From the north "Meadowgrass and haycocks dry..." Modern sundial

    All Saints, Catfield

We found All Saints almost entirely surrounded by wild grasses, headstones peaking like ships tossed at sea. It was totally gorgeous. The church itself, first seen from the south, appears secretive, but around the back the open porch with its modern sundial is very welcoming. Between the inside of the door and the west window of the south aisle, the open stairway into the top of the porch tumbles down like a waterfall, a delightful juxtaposition.There are two aisles, but no clerestory; this creates a feel of a large square space in the nave.

Detail in a spandrel of the screen   A rather lurid purple light fills the space beneath the tower, but it is to the east you'll want to look anyway, because All Saints has one of those splendid Broadland screens described in the introduction. The construction is rather more homely than that of some of its neighbours, but the painting is of high quality, and very unusual, as it features panels of sixteen Kings.

This gives you pause to wonder why. At Kersey, in Suffolk, the late screen features alternating Kings and Old Testament Prophets. One of the Kings there is St Edmund, and that screen seems to be saying something about the connection between secular power and an order ordained by God.

There are no Prophets here, but St Edmund is easily recognisable, and there is also St Olaf (also found a few miles away at Barton Turf) and so we may assume that the other fourteen are intended to be particular Kings as well.

This must have been a quite wonderful screen once, because the two roodloft stairs set in the window embrasures of the aisles are fully eight feet west of the chancel arch. So there were parcloses, and perhaps many other figures, and if we knew what they were it might give us a clue as to the meaning of the Kings. But they are all gone now, all gone.

Carved in the spandrels of the screen is a tiny face, apparently flanked by a pair of dogs. Or is it a green man? very curious.

The 15th century rood screen The north range (I-VIII) The south range (IX-XVI)
Kings I, II Kings III, IV Kings V, VI (Olaf) Kings VII, VIII
Kings IX (Edmund), X Kings XI, XII Kings XIII, XIV Kings XV, XVI

Other curiosities include the Royal Arms, which are clearly those of the Hanoverian kings, but the inscription reads V 1st R. Perhaps they were repainted when William IV died and Victoria came to the throne. But why the '1st'? Perhaps the previous 'IV' showed through the overpainting, and had to be hastily adapted.

When MR James came to Catfield in the 1930s, he found the areas above the arcades resplendent with wall paintings. Today, only one survives, but it is very dramatic. It depicts the stoning of Stephen, and it isn't particularly faint, so I decided with some optimism that the others had been whitewashed over to await a kinder, gentler age when we spend money on preserving our heritage rather than on bombing the poor people of Iraq.

This is a lovely church, one of my favourites in Norfolk so far. It obviously has a civilising effect on others, too; outside, a very polite little notice on a grave site announced Sorry, reserved for late Mrs Ivy Firman, Thank you. What gentle people.

Simon Knott, September 2004

You can also read: an introduction to amazing screens


Inside the south door: the Deposition and those splendid open stairs Lurid light beyond the font Looking east The sanctuary Sanctuary memorial Stairs to the lofts in the south aisle; the same in the north.
The stoning of Stephen Georgian Royal Arms overpainted as 'Victoria Ist' '...reserved...'

an introduction to amazing screens

Barton Turf Catfield Irstead Ludham Ranworth Upton

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