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

St Peter, Great Walsingham

Great Walsingham

Great Walsingham porch Great Walsingham

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St Peter, Great Walsingham

Great Walsingham and Little Walsingham almost merge, and the parish church of Great Walsingham sits just beyond the houses of Little Walsingham on the west side of the River Stiffkey. The churchyard is separated from the narrow lane by a wide field, which in modern times has become the car park. The church is a fine sight from the lane, and even Pevsner was moved to describe it as a singularly beautiful church... the felicitous effect is gained against heavy odds, for the church lacks its chancel. The effect from outside is pretty much all of the second half of the 14th Century, that beautiful mature Decorated style which even then is beginning to hint at a desire for more light, the window tracery taller, the quatrefoil windows of the clerestory abundant. The substantial aisles seem to hug the building to the ground, making of it a sprawling beast. The later porch with its two large image niches does not intrude, and even the new east wall with its two domestic windows, one above the other, is charming.

And there's more to come, because you step into a church which is at one with its exterior, a harmony rarely found, a space of light and air, of white walls and old wood. The range of tracery-backed 15th Century benches, rustic in their way but suiting their church entirely, include figures of the apostles holding their symbols, including Andrew, Simon, John, James the Less, Matthew and Bartholomew. Another figure looks as if he might be a 15th Century merchant. Could it be the donor?

merchant donor? St Simon with his saw St John with his poisoned chalice St James the Less with his fullers club St Philip with scroll and loaf
St Matthew with money bag St Bartholomew with his flencing knife St Andrew with his saltire cross angel holding a shield with a merchant's mark bearded chameleon-like lizard

 An ornate 17th Century font cover is the only vivid splash of colour at the west end of the nave, and looking east there is another at the end of the south aisle, a gilt reredos in an Italian style depicting the evangelists St Matthew and St Luke with St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdalene flanking the Blessed Virgin and Christchild. Beside it, an aumbry has its original door still in place, an unusual survival. There is no modern glass, but high in the tracery of the north aisle there are some 15th Century survivals, fragments from two Coronation of the Blessed Virgin scenes. Swirling around them are demons with big noses. The pulpit is dated 1613, but it appears to be made out of panels from a rood screen or rood loft. Perhaps 1613 was the year that they were put together?

Interestingly, the mid-16th Century alms box is set into the floor at the east end of the nave as if it might have been used liturgically. Nearby, two 17th Century brass plaques have charming inscriptions. One is to Jane Golding, who died in 1632, telling us that she was sober, meeke, patient, modest, constant harted, her soule remaines in blysse, in peace departed. The other is to Elizabeth Alee, who died in 1641 and reminds us that Heaven hath her soule, This Earth her earth, her Love her Husbande keeps: the ods twixt Him and Her is Breth, which gone all Flesh thus sleeps. Light from the high, clear windows falls silently where they sleep.

Simon Knott, May 2022

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looking east sanctuary
font and font cover altar and reredos St Peter alms box (16th Century)
aumbry Risen Christ with raised hands G R royal arms
Our Lady of Walsingham benches
sober, meeke, patient, modest Heaven hath her soule

   
   
               
                 

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