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

All Saints, East Barsham

East Barsham: huddled organically in an ancient graveyard

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view from the road east end blocked south Norman door west end

  All Saints, East Barsham
the chancel has gone   There is no real village here, but the church will be familiar to thousands of people because it is one of three buildings sitting on the road to Walsingham a mile or so south of Houghton St Giles where the National Shrine of Our Lady is.

It will be familiar if they know it is there, that is. For, while Barsham Manor is probably the single most famous landmark on the road, and the White Horse pub beside it a popular stopping place, All Saints huddles organically in its ancient graveyard, overgrown with blue alkanet, overshadowed by trees. You might easily pass it and think it a ruin; you might easily not notice it at all.

The tower is truncated to a little above the roofline of the nave. I think it must once have been taller, because it once contained a medieval bell, now recast. The tower forms a porch on the north side of the nave. This arrangement is fairly common in east Suffolk, albeit on the south side, but very unusual in north Norfolk. The porch probably stands on the north side because that is where the manor is.

Big windows give it a flavour of the Perpendicular, but this is at heart a Norman church, or at least the remains of one, as you can tell from the blocked Norman south doorway. The chancel has gone, and so this is just the nave.

Inside, there is still a feel of the organic, a smell of earth and damp. This is one of the most militantly Anglo-Catholic of the Walsingham area churches; in a blocked window splay is a rood group brought here from Tatterford seminary, and it has become the focus of prayers for the Reparation of England - that is to say, a healing of the wounds at the Reformation and the reunification of the Church of England with the Catholic Church. There is a prayer leaflet available as you go in that contains the Litany of Reparation, which includes, among other things, prayers for forgiveness for the destruction of the shrine at Walsingham, prayers for forgiveness for the destruction of the shrines of Our Ladies of Ipswich and Barking, and so on. If it was up to me, I would welcome them all home with open arms, but I suspect that it is all a bit more complicated than it seems, on both sides.

looking east little font looking west

All Saints has been touched by the Walsingham effect. Walsingham attracts large numbers of retired clergy, and so there is no shortage on a Sunday morning. All Saints manages a Mass every Sunday - I've not been, but would assume that it is rather high. Indeed, the fact that the church was rescued from near dereliction after the Second World War is also a testimony to this effect. I have already mentioned the rood group, brought here in 1954. From a few years earlier is the reredos, very much in what I think of as the Walsingham style, vaguely naive and yet triumphalist at the same time. Six Saints flank the Madonna and child: St George looking very martial, St Monica looking demur, St Edmund with his arrows, St Margaret with her dragon, Julian of Norwich with her Revelations of Divine Love, and an appropriately black St Augustine of Canterbury.

S george, St Monica, St Edmund, Our Lady and the Christchild, St Margaret, Julian of Norwich and St Augustine St George and St Monica Julian of Norwich and St Augustine Mary and Margaret 

There are older survivals, including a good amount of medieval glass reset in the north windows, including a Visitation with a beautifully pregnant Elizabeth. There is also a vast 17th century memorial, which as usual seems quite out of place in these churches around here. This one is actually interesting, being by the brothers Christmas. It is to Mary Calthorpe. The Calthorpes, who we have met on the other side of the Stiffkey at North Creake and Burnham Thorpe, lived at Barsham Manor in the 1640s. In the middle, Mary Calthorpe appears to be sitting in the bath, until you realise she is actually climbing out of her coffin. On the side it says COME LORD JESU, COME QUICKLY, almost as if she was shouting it out herself, and wanting to add how clever she is to have got out. An amusing little piece, I thought, and worth seeing, like everything else here.

Simon Knott, May 2005


medieval angel musician St Edmund the Rood of Reparation Mary Calthorpe in the bath medieval angel musician
Our Lady of Walsingham the Visitation

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