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

St Mary, Gissing

Gissing: round-towered, but stately and imposing

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south doorway Kemp chapel north porch wide church north doorway, weathered despite the porch

    St Mary, Gissing
wholly Norman in character   We get used to quietly mysterious round-towered churches, tucked away down narrow lanes, in fields and in the folds of woodlands. But Gissing is a reminder that round-towered churches can be stately and imposing as well; this wide church with its chancel chapels sprawls comfortably in the centre of the village, lifting a tower that is almost wholly Norman in character. It is one of the best if its period in Norfolk.

The church, too, speaks more of the conquest than any other period, although there is an ornate two-storey 15th century north porch with image niches and roses in the spandrils. Inside, it hides the original Norman door, which despite being sheltered for half a millennium is more weathered than the exposed contemporary doorway on the south side. The crisply-flinted chancel chapel on this side appears to be a rebuild, or possibly even a Victorian invention, but that on the south side is rendered and older.

I came here late one afternoon in winter, but Mortlock recommends a visit on a sunny day, with good reason. This is because St Mary has a splendid double hammerbeam roof, probably built as part of the same campaign that gave it the porch. I think that the wood must be chestnut. The figures in the wallposts, smoothed by the passing of the years, are as stately as the tower outside.

The north chancel chapel is the Kemp family mausoleum, and their memorials line the walls. Some are very grand, particularly in comparison with one of the starkest, simplest sanctuaries in Norfolk. A low, curved arch into the chapel is probably 18th century, and the contemporary screen below it is a curiosity.

Looking back to the east, the doorways and tower arch are all their Norman originals, which is very pleasing. Less attractive perhaps, but more intriguing, is the font, which has blank sides between columned corners. Was it unfinished? Or was it originally painted? Or, even more interestingly, could it be that the reliefs have been cemented over? The deep niches on the stem must once have held statues; but they are now empty, and offer no answers.

  into the Kemp chapel

Simon Knott, March 2006


spartan sanctuary
looking east intriguing font tower arch magnificent roof hammerbeam 
Kemp memorial Kemp memorial north doorway figure in wall post

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