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

St Mary, Great Snoring

Great Snoring

aisle and clerestory the Great Snoring dead

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St Mary, Great Snoring

Here we are in the orbit of Walsingham, but Great Snoring is a very attractive village in its own right, the narrow lanes and flinty cottages lining the street, the church set back from it. This is a large church, and Pevsner details a building programme which was pretty well continuous from the 12th to the 15th Centuries, the most obvious fruits of which are the delicious interlace of the late 13th Century five light east window, Early English breaking out into Decorated, and the grand Perpendicular of aisles, clerestories and tower. The beautiful early 16th Century old rectory immediately to the west of the church was the work of Ralph Shelton, one of the benefactors to the late medieval work on the church.

You step into a pleasingly atmospheric interior, clear light falling over old wood, brick and stone, well kept but not antiseptic. The view to the east is of the rood screen, which is of interest for a number of reasons. As recently as the 1980s it was cleaned of the whitewash applied by the reformers, revealing an exquisite Blessed Virgin and child. There is something similar across the fields at Houghton St Giles. Another panel depicts the Holy Trinity, God the Father seated holding the crucified Son while the dove of the Holy Spirit descends. The screen was restored by Anna Hulbert, who was responsible for the stencilling on the other panels.

Blessed Virgin and Child Blessed Virgin and Child Holy Trinity

The west end of the nave is dominated by two impressive pieces of the late 17th Century. The royal arms above the south doorway are to James I, but in 1688 they were adapted with a legend across the bottom which reads Quae Deus conjunxit nemo separit which translates as the familiar words of the marriage service, 'whom God has joined together let no man put asunder'. This is intriguing, because 1688 was the last full year of the reign of the ill-fated James II, and his royal arms are unsurprisingly rare. The words seem to be a warning to those already touting for his replacement by William of Orange who would reign as William III. There is another set of royal arms lettered for James II across the fields at Little Snoring, and these are two of just half a dozen in all East Anglia, suggesting something about the loyalties of people in these parts. Even more impressive is the decalogue board on the north wall opposite, Moses and Aaron flanking the Ten Commandments with medallions of the four Evangelists.

Through the screen then, and into the chancel, with 15th century glass in the upper lights of the windows. Fragmentary angels include musicians and several from the Orders of Angels, including Dominions and Powers.

angel musician angel musician orders of angels: Dominions St Michael
angel with a scroll angel musician orders of angels: Powers

A medieval brass to the Ralph Shelton who built the old rectory is badly damaged, but his wife still survives, pretty much. Robert and Margaret West face each other across a prayer desk on their 1610 memorial. Tenderly, their hands touch. More moving still is a surviving WWI cross to Lieutenant C R Bayley of the Royal Field Artillery. He was killed in action on 29th March 1918. These were the original grave markers on the battlefields of northern France, which were returned to the families of the dead when more permanent markers replaced them. There used to be hundreds of these in English churches, but in their turn they were often discarded when the churches installed their own war memorials. There has been a great interest in them in recent years, so presumably their future is secure. What makes this one especially powerful is that it seems to have been varnished soon after it was lifted, and the Flanders mud is still there, under the veneer.

Simon Knott, May 2022

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looking east nave altar and screen
angel (from a wall post?) Blessed Virgin Robert and Margaret West, 1610 piscina and sedilia
James II royal arms, 1688 decalogue


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