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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Simon Knott, March 2006