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

St Peter and St Paul, Griston

Griston: excellent medieval survivals

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south side down the avenue north side

    St Peter and St Paul, Griston
Ghosts of Medieval Norfolk   From the map, you might think that Griston was almost a suburb of Watton. But it is separated from that pretty little town by the former RAF airbase, and to reach Griston you must travel out into the countryside. The airbase is now home to one of Her Majesty's Prisons, and Griston is curtailed beyond, along a road that leads to nowhere else. This makes it a particularly quiet spot, and it was a delight to stand in the graveyard listening to spring birdsong.

St Peter and St Paul has a magnificent tower of the 14th century, and the church beside it, which was rebuilt a hundred years later, appears rather austere and bleak beside it, as if professing Perpendicular rationalism against the mystery of its Decorated tower.

A long avenue of limes leads to the north doorway. Peter had previously found this church locked, and it looked locked today; but, as it would turn out, there was a very good reason for this. As we approached, we found ourselves following a man up the path. He unlocked the door and went in. Hopefully, we followed him into the church.

He turned out to be the churchwarden, and here, leaning against the west wall of the nave, were the reasons that the church was currently being kept locked. They are angels, from the 15th century hammerbeam roof which was dismantled and replaced by the Victorians. They retained some of the smaller figures, but the larger ones were consigned to the floor of the belfry, where they were left to rot for more than a century. Just recently, they had been rediscovered, and brought down to the church. They have been examined by experts, and are to be restored at fabulous cost.

They are stunning, these ghosts of medieval Norfolk. The curly hair is familiar from contemporary stained glass. Two of them hold symbols, one a bag and the other a chalice and host. The restoration adviser had suggested that the figure holding a bag might be St Matthew, which might mean the chalice actually had a disc with a painting of a dragon on it, making that figure St John. But looking at the photographs since, I think they must all be angels. It is planned to reset them at angles where the hammerbeam ends would have been.

angel with chalice and host a Norfolk angel a Norfolk angel

The churchwarden told us that he had assumed, on entering the church for the first time, that it was all of its 19th century restoration, and I must admit that this was also my own first impression. But even without the angels there are some excellent medieval survivals here. Most significant is a group of four Old Testament Patriarchs and Prophets in stained glass, a very rare thing to find. They are David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Noah. In medieval times, each of them would have been paired with a Disciple.

St Catherine David Jeremiah Isaiah Noah

The narrow lights beside them contain censing angels and a bishop, but one of the larger lights contains a 15th century figure of St Catherine with her wheel and sword. Mortlock says that this was reset here at the time of the 1885 restoration, suggesting that the Victorians thought it a more valuable piece than the angels.

Mortlock also encourages us to look at the 17th century communion rail, with its unusual indent. As he points out, it is identical to that at Thompson, across the fields, and must be the work of the same hand. This reminds us that such furnishings were usually the work of a local man. Above hangs the Stars and Stripes, a reminder of the wartime use of the local base. Churches have become a powerful symbol in the memory of those who flew from the East Anglian bases. As one old man told me a few years back: "the church tower was the last thing we saw after we'd left the ground, and when we saw it again we knew we'd made it home".

As well as rebuilding the roof, the 19th century restoration gave the church a new floor, a sprawl of vitreous tiles, and most of the furnishings. This creates a rather gloomy interior, especially as the windows are not clear, but this creates a good foil for the view east, through a delicate 14th century screen and the contemporary reticulated tracery in the window. On this sunny morning it was a joyful sight.

Back at the west end, on the front of the ringing gallery is a royal arms dated 1902. I was excited to think that this must be a set for Edward VII, making them unique in East Anglia. It appears to be cast iron, although it was rather high up to be sure. However, Bryan Kitson points out that thay are, in fact, the arms of Hanover, merely redated.

Beneath, the font is a fairly perfunctory late medieval octagonal one, except that to it has been added a most unusual inscription referring to the restoration of the tower in 1568:at that date was tys Steple tope newe set up to the great cost of landed men. This must refer to the battlements, and the phrase great cost means that they bore the larger part of it rather than that it was fabulously expensive. Even so, they've made sure that we don't forget.

  the Risen Christ

Simon Knott, May 2007

looking east looking west font screen 
Edward VII royal arms - unique? John Borret font inscription
censing angel bishop east window censing angel feathered angel
angels Three Marys St John and St Peter angel at the empty tomb angels

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