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All Saints, Marsham
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Great churches, famous churches, of which Norfolk has several, are usually those that appear spectacular even to uneducated eyes, with contents that we can all be in awe of, because they are 'beautiful', or 'really old'. There are lots of these. There are plenty of other churches that most people would pass without a second glance, but a few of these are full of interest - at least, to those who know what to look for. A few of them are of outstanding interest. All Saints, Marsham, is one of these. I think it is an outstanding church.
From the south-east it is a typical late medieval East Anglian church, with aisles and a clerestory - but these fold themselves modestly behind the tower when seen from the west. Marsham is a large, busy village on the Norwich to Cromer road, with a fine pub; but the church is set back from the road at the south of the village, and you approach it up a narrow lane, past 19th century cottages. A niche above the east window faces the road, and in medieval times the statue it held would have been the last thing seen by parishioners setting out on the long journey to Norwich, London, and beyond.
The tall, single storey porch has an entrance that is nearly as high as itself; the wooden roof inside is gaily painted. You step through the south door into a dark, secretive building.
Anti-clockwise from the east, the panels are : Baptism (E), the infant being fully immersed; Mass (NE), the Priest with his back to the viewer, facing the altar, the sanctus bell being rung on the left; Ordination (N), with three kneeling ordinands; Matrimony (NW), curiously the bride's head has been destroyed, but not the others; Confession (W), another curiosity, the scene set beneath a canopy representing what may be the Holy House in Nazareth; The Last Judgement (SW), Christ sits on a rainbow flanked by Mary and John, while at his feet, the dead rise from their coffins; Last Rites (S), with a mourner in front of the bed and Confirmation (SE), as usual of an infant in arms.
The pillar of the font features alternating angels and evangelists; hover over the panels below for descriptions, and click on them to enlarge them.
Above the font is a tall organ gallery, and on it is a handsome set of royal arms. They are a rare survival, the arms of James I, with a quotation from Psalm 72: Give the Kinge thy iudgements O God and thy righteousnes unto the Kinges lorre: then shall he iudge the people accordinge to righte, and defende the poore. The lion and the unicorn are depicted as particularly male.
Until the 1880 restoration, the font stood in the north aisle by the second arcade bay from the west. You can still see the fixing for the font cover. At one time, the fixing was shaped like a boy's face, the so called 'laughing boy of Marsham', but both boy and font cover were lost in the restoration.
The best woodwork here, though, is the screen. It is by the same workshop as those at Aylsham and Suffield, and dates from the start of the sixteenth century. Unusually, the dado panels depict an odd number of figures on each side, just seven, the two outer panels being hidden behind the chancel arch and left blank. On the north side, the figures are St Faith with a saw, St James the Less with a fuller's club, St Thomas with a lance, St James with a staff, St John with a poisoned chalice, St Andrew with a cross and St Peter with his keys. On the south side are St Paul with a book, St Philip with a basket, four figures apparently without symbols and then a Bishop who may be St Thomas of Canterbury. Curiously, St Paul should also have a sword, and his hand appears to be in the attitude to hold one - but it isn't there. Similarly, some of the hands of the four figures without symbols look as if they are in attitudes of holding objects - could it be that the screen is unfinished?
The gorgeous upper tracery of the screen hangs like foliage, an echo of the forest of branches in the roof above. The dim light is partly because of a profusion of 19th and 20th century glass, but some of this is very good; the east window, a meditation on I am the vine, ye are the branches, is a fine composition including angels and Saints including a lovely St Agnes. The war memorial window features St George and, more unusually, Sir Galahad from the legend of King Arthur. Another curiosity is Abraham and Sarah, with the infant Isaac at her feet carrying his bound branches in an echo of the saltire cross on the screen.
A building full of interest, then, which deserves to be as well-known as some of Norfolk's more famous churches.
Simon Knott, October 2005
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