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

St Catherine, Fritton

Fritton St Catherine

Fritton St Catherine Fritton St Catherine Fritton St Catherine
the Fritton dead spring is sprung lily crosses

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  St Catherine, Fritton

There are two Frittons in Norfolk, and this is the one near Long Stratton. The church was set romantically among misty ploughed fields when I first came here in February 2005. The village is almost a mile to the south, and you might not even know that this church was there. But a walk from the road brings you to the gate of a secretive churchyard, the church facing you east end on as you approach. The narrow church folds back towards its tower. There are no aisles, no clerestory, a continuous line from nave into chancel.

A simple and typical south Norfolk church then, reminiscent of that at neighbouring Morningthorpe, its Norman round tower topped out in the late medieval period, probably the late 15th Century, although the bell stage is more elaborate than the one at Morningthorpe, octagonal and battlemented in red brick. The strikingly tall body of the church was raised at the start of the 16th Century, but there was a major restoration here in the 17th Century, an unusual date. Perhaps there simply wasn't much for the Victorians to do here, for they largely left it alone apart from tiling the floors and replacing the benches.

You step into a tall, narrow space. The restoration was considerable, but much survived it. Most memorable are the early 16th Century panels in the dado of the rood screen. Eight of them survive, six on the north side and two on the south side. The first two feature the donor of the screen, John Bacon, who died in 1511, with his wife and their fourteen children arranged piously behind him. They face the four Latin Doctors, Saints Augustine, Jerome, Gregory and Ambrose. Gregory's papal tiara was scratched out, presumably by 16th century Anglican reformers. Curiously, Jerome's cardinal's hat was not. Two surviving disciples across the gap are St Simon and St Jude. St Simon holds a handsome fish, a fat mackerel perhaps. His face has been scratched out. St Jude beside him holds a simple boat. One of the two panels he is set on has lost its paintwork, and I wonder if these disciples only survived because something was placed in front of them rather than them being erased. Among the reliefs in the spandrels are unicorns, and what appears to be St George or a wild man with a spear facing up to a dragon.

spandrel: winged calf of St Luke spandrels: the dragon and St George spandrels: unicorns
screen: John Bacon and family, 1511, donors screen: St Augustine and St Jerome screen: St Gregory and St Ambrose screen: St Simon and St Jude
donor donor St Simon St Jude

The screen and rood above the painted dado is from the early 20th Century, suggestive of a High Church enthusiasm here. As is common in this part of East Anglia a painting of St Christopher faces the south doorway, faded now but this one is unusual because it can be dated almost precisely to 1506. The ribbon along the bottom is a dedicatory inscription, and the two figures kneeling before a cross that you can just make out in the foreground are John Alward and his wife, the donors themselves. This is so close to the date of the raising of the nave walls and the painting of the screen that perhaps we can assume a major restoration of the interior at this time. Further along, St George defeats a dragon. It is restored, but seems to depict the same scene as on the contemporary screen at Wellingham and on the wall at St Gregory in Norwich. Perhaps most interestingly of all, just before the rood loft entrance stands a disarmingly young bishop. Mortlock deduced that his 13th Century mitre meant it was St Edmund of Abingdon, a former Archbishop of Canterbury. It can't have been painted long after his canonisation in 1246.

St George and the dragon St Edmund of Abington, 13th Century

The font is a typical 15th Century East Anglian one, but if you have just come from Morningthorpe as I had you will recognise that it is exactly the same design, with lions alternating with angels holding shields around the bowl and standing lions around the stem alternating with buttresses that are probably tidied up remains of vandalised woodwoses. But I wonder if perhaps it was made by a different mason, because the lions here are all grinning wildly, some of the most cheerful and friendly font lions I've come across.

Simon Knott, December 2022

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Fritton St Catherine chancel
font font St Catherine and St Etheldreda


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