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

St Mary, Kenninghall

Kenninghall: grand and interesting

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
going up terracotta tower base course
south porch pinnacle north side

    St Mary, Kenninghall
five wily sisters   Kenninghall, the village, is surrounded by other villages which are far better known, although not necessarily for their churches; Banham has its zoo, Bressingham its gardens and Quidenham its convent and the Norfolk children's hospice. So it comes as a surprise to discover that Kenninghall is a large, comfortable, self-sufficient kind of place, and its great church is grander, and perhaps more interesting, than those of its neighbours.

St Mary stands in an imposing position above the road, the south side particularly striking with its big Perpendicular windows and a clerestory of five small double light windows. There never was an aisle on this side.

The tower is big and bulky; Mortlock says that a spire was intended, and the money for it commited, by the Duke of Norfolk, whose shield can still be seen on the south-east buttress of the nave. But Norfolk was imprisoned for treason before it could be built, his assets frozen; and then, of course, the English Reformation intervened.

The graveyard is wide and also interesting. We picked our way through the long wet grass exploring. On this late winter afternoon, the bright low sun flooded the clear glass of the great west window and filled the chancel with light. From outside, the east window glowed like a jewel.

St Mary is exactly the kind of church which would be better known if it was in another county and not so much off the beaten track. You step into a large, urban church, full of confidence, and with more than a few survivals of the building's late-medieval and early-modern life. Best of all is the tympanum bearing the royal arms of Queen Elizabeth, one of only four sets in all East Anglia. It has been fixed at the east end of the north aisle, but is still pleasingly shaped to fit the chancel arch. God save the Queene, reads the legend, a crowned lion and a gorgeous spotted dragon flanking the Tudor arms. This is a much simpler affair than the more famous elaborate Elizabethan arms a few miles off at Tivetshall; here, the arms are cleanly drawn and charged with the quiet triumph of Protestantism. As if that wasn't enough, the church has one of Norfolk's best sets of arms of Charles I hanging above the north door.

Elizabeth Charles

On the other side of the church there are fragments of a large brass. The main figures are gone, but surviving are the two groups of children. These have been reset on a wall, so if there is a fire they will melt - floor-mounted brasses don't melt in fires - but at least it makes them easy to look at. With them are a pair of image brackets remounted from elsewhere, one of them ornate with fleurons.

Roughly contemporary with the brasses is what must have been a magnificent towering font cover. It towers like a steeple, familiar in style from elsewhere in Norfolk at Elsing and Walpole St Peter. Similarly battered are the remains of a medieval table tomb with empty brass inlays, pressed into service as a side altar in the chancel.

The 19th and 20th century glass is, of its kind, very good. There is an excellent Victorian Presentation in the Temple - note the detail of the sacrificial doves in their cage - and best of all the 1960s figures of the East Anglian Saints Felix and Walstan. Lively and animated, St Walstan swinging his scythe and the evangelical St Felix holding a lighted candle and an open book, they must surely be by the same artist as the figures in the east window across the county at Mautby.

Their jauntiness is countered by the sobriety of the small, simple memorial reset against the tower arch to two young children, Michael and Mary Marner, who died seven years apart in the middle of the 18th century. A verse explains that The Great Jehovah full of Love through Death's dark shades did send to take these pretty spotless Doves to Joys that never End, which must have been small comfort, even in those days.

  small comfort

Simon Knott, December 2006

looking east looking east in the north aislefont in the north aisle looking west war memorial
south wall of the nave image brackets and brasses detail: doves in a cage detail: St Felix lights a candle
Simeon and the infant Christ Presentation in the Temple St Felix and St Walstan St Walstan weeping children
east window Blessed Virgin and child Adoration of the Shepherds nativity Adoration of the Magi
west window crown him adoring angel (detail) Magi (detail) 
cast a warm light battered old table tomb
cherub creeping oblivion Christ crucified angel

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