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St Andrew, Hempstead
the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to
see them enlarged.
If thefts are ever going to happen in churches, this is exactly the kind of spot where they will occur, and so the poor old Church of England has to balance its responsibilities to be an open act of witness and to safeguard the nation's heritage. Today, St Andrew is kept locked, but they will gladly open up for you to take a look at what is simply one of the major art objects of England.
For a start, it is very early, certainly no later than the end of the 14th century. The uneven top beam is completely unrestored; indeed, the whole piece has only been lightly touched since its original construction.
But the the real significance of this screen comes from the quality of the painting. It is exquisite, and certainly on a par with Norfolk's best at Barton Turf. Indeed, if it were in better condition it would be as well known as the screen there. Norfolk's most famous is that at Ranworth, but the painting there is certainly not as fine as that here at Hempstead. Tom, who has seen many more screens than me in both Norfolk and elsewhere, pointed out the superb quality of the panels featuring St Stephen and St Lawrence, and the use of that pale and radiant blue, fabulously expensive to produce and unique in his experience.
The screen dado consists of two ranges of eight panels each, the panels arranged in pairs, some pairs significant, others apparently not so. You can see images of all of them below - click on them to enlarge the images.
They are, on the north side:
Juliana - she has the devil on a halter
Helen - little remains, but the label at the
Theobald, a Bishop
St John of Bridlington. He holds a fish, and is
curiously represented as a Bishop, which he wasn't
On the south side:
George, splendid with a red beard and the
English banner above his head
Stephen, holding stones, the instruments of his
Blaise, patron Saint of woolcombers, as a Bishop
Leonard, patron Saint of prisoners, in fetters
Apart from its screen, Hempstead is not a remarkable church. It is as serene as its setting, a place where not a lot happens. The font is overwhelmed with damp, but this somehow makes it more organic, as if the whole place is comfortably blending into the fields. A couple of medieval angels look from a north window into the silence. Most curiously out of place, three massive baroque bench ends that came here from Kings College Chapel in Cambridge. A contrast with the homely hand-painted decalogue boards in the simple sanctuary, the handwritten roll of honour. Such a quiet place for this wonderful screen.
Simon Knott, April 2005
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