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

St Mary, Gayton Thorpe

Gayton Thorpe: an idyllic spot

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
tower beautiful tower
bold Norman top north side - curious D-shaped tower

    St Mary, Gayton Thorpe
seven sacraments   Gayton Thorpe is one of several pretty little villages between Kings Lynn and Swaffham; self-contained places, off the beaten track and minding their own business. The setting of St Mary is idyllic, although it helps that this is one of the prettiest church exteriors in this part of Norfolk, of course. The Saxon tower with its bold Norman upper stage is often described as being elliptical, although it would be truer to say that it is D-shaped, the eastern face flattened and the nave built against it. The effect is delightfully enhanced by the Norman windows in the bell stage with their zigzag arches.

The chancel is curiously off-centre in the east wall of the nave, but standing looking back you can see that it lines up with the tower. At some point the nave has been extended northwards. The north wall of the chancel has no windows, suggesting that it was rebuilt at sometime, possibly to accomodate a now-lost memorial. The south side of the church is a neat textbook display of windows of different periods, including a very elegant Tudor window in the chancel.

Stepping inside is a bit of a disappointment, because the interior cannot match the beauty of the exterior. However, Gayton Thorpe church does have one of the great medieval treasures of Norfolk, one of the forty-odd Seven Sacrament font series. This is rather cruder than most, with no cusping or tracery, but simple carvings set in plain frames. However, some of the representations are particularly interesting, and the eighth 'odd' panel is a representation of the Blessed Virgin and child. Apart from this one, and the Last Rites panel, the font is in pretty good condition. There has been little iconoclasm here.

The Blessed Virgin is the easterly panel, and then anti-clockwise from there are Baptism (NE), the Priest filling the font with water while the mother holds the baby; Ordination (N), the ordinand, unusually, standing rather than kneeling, and a dove descending on his head; Confession (NW), the confessee kneeling at a shriving bench before the Priest, while the devil sneaks off behind her; Mass (W), perhaps the most interesting representation here, the Priest dispensing Communion to kneeling communicants while a houseling cloth catches the crumbs; Matrimony (SW) a conventional arrangement; Confirmation (S), another conventional arrangement, and Last Rites (SE), a rather ambitious 3D effect with figures standing on both sides of the bed.

Blessed Virgin and child (E) Baptism (NE) Ordination (N) Confession (NW)
Mass (W) Matrimony (SW) Confirmation (S) Last Rites (SE)

Apart from the font, this is just a typical small, rural parish church, and none the worse for being so. Two slight curiosities are the pair of unmatched corbel heads supporting the chancel arch - you can see where the arch has been cut away above them to accomodate the rood beam - and a rather stark 18th century reredos which looks as if it has been borrowed from a stage set. The church is obviously loved; it appears well-kept and well-used, and is a pleasure to visit.


Simon Knott, October 2006

looking west: the chancel lines up with the tower arch
corbel to the chancel arch looking east corbel to the chancel arch

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