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St Nicholas, Dersingham
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St Nicholas is a big church, sitting just to the north of the Sandringham estate. There's pleasing harmony about the juxtaposition between the early 14th Century chancel and the late medieval nave and aisles, all overlooked by the Perpendicular tower. Everything is in happy proportion. There was a good restoration of the church in the 1870s which maintained this unity but also celebrated its individual parts. In fact, you don't really see quite how big the church is until you step inside - as Pevsner notes, the nave is remarkably wide. The glass in the south aisle is not intrusive in this great space, and it is good of its kind, apart from one oddity. It is by Christopher Powell, and there are two windows, one from the 1920s, the other from the 1930s. The earlier window is in memory of Edwin and Agnes Woodward, and depicts Christ flanked by St Agnes and St Luke, suggesting that Edwin Woodward was a doctor. The two outer figures are beautiful, but at some time the central figure has been damaged and repaired. Christ's replacement head is very badly done, poorly drawn and out of proportion. It seemed a shame.
There is more glass in the chancel, mostly by Kempe & Co. The low side window is curiously and beautifully carved as four quatrefoils. On the north side of the chancel there is another curiosity, the early 17th Century incised tomb chest featuring the figures of John and Joanna Pell. As Mortlock observes, it is exactly as if they had been cast in brass. Their sons and daughters kneel piously around the sides. It seems likely that the tomb was moved by the Victorians, as originally all four sides were probably intended to be seen.
There are more Pell memorials on the south side of the chancel, and beneath them is probably the most famous thing about Dersingham church. This is the ancient parish chest, dating from the middle of the 14th Century in the years of the Black Death. It is as big as a tomb, and carved elaborately with the symbols of the four Evangelists. On top, there is part of the inscription Jesus Nazarenus Crucifixus Judaeorum ('Jesus of Nazareth crucified by the Jews'). A remarkable thing to see.
The Victorian restoration of the rood screen revealed six figures on the north side dado. St Apollonia holds her tooth in a pair of pincers. She was that most essential of figures in the medieval economy of grace, being invoked in prayers against toothache. In East Anglia she was often paired with St Lawrence, invoked in prayers against fires, and he may well have matched her on the south side. Beside her, St Denys holds his whole head, as if holding a mere tooth were nothing to show off about. The next figure is probably St Withburga, and then a very heavily circumscribed chap who is probably St Giles given the hind at his feet. The other two figures are St Juliana leading a little devil on a chain, and a bishop, who may be St Cyprian.
Simon Knott, August 2016
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