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All Saints, Mattishall
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You step inside to a vast space with an overwhelmingly urban Victorian feel to it, as if we were in the middle of Norwich or Ipswich. The creamy arcades rise from range upon range of Victorian pews, and you will see something else about All Saints that I will need to mention sooner or later, so I may as well get it out of the way now.
Now, this isn't a style of worship of which I have much experience. But then again, I am not a member of the Church of England, and it isn't really my place to tell Anglicans how to worship. I would say, however, that this is one of the few big, rural churches in Norfolk that is regularly full.
Glancing at the mixing desk, I saw that the hymns for the following Sunday included Jesus You're my Superhero, and I saw the words of this song up at the east end on a music stand. There weren't very many of them. But again, there is no reason to think that this kind of thing is any less liturgically valid, or more of a passing fancy, than Mission Praise or the New English Hymnal. And it is obviously meeting a need, and inspiring devotion.
Later in the day, I would speak to a churchwarden at one of the other churches in this benefice, a building nearly as big as Mattishall church. There, they struggle on each Sunday with half a dozen people and the Book of Common Prayer. On the last Sunday in each month, the benefice congregations come together for a united service which the churches take it in turn to host. As you may imagine, the others tend not to go when it is at Mattishall - it's all happy clappy there, said the churchwarden, as if this was explanation enough.
Mattishall's greatest treasure is beyond the microphones, below the overhead projector screen. It is the dado of the roodscreen, a work contemporary with the building of the church in the mid-15th century. The panels to each light are not subdivided; that is to say, there are two subjects in each panel. They depict what is known as a Creed sequence, where the 12 apostles hold a sequence of scrolls containing the clauses of the Apostles Creed. There is a traditional pattern to which apostle holds which clause, and so identification is relatively easy. On the north side they are Philip, Bartholomew, Matthias, Simon, Jude and Matthew. On the south side are Peter, Andrew, James, John, Thomas and James the Less.
Of more interest, perhaps, is the gorgeous tracery of the panel canopies, and the tiny details in the spandrels. A hooded man creeps up on a dragon, a man with a sword (is it St George?) approaches what may be a fire-breathing lion, a thoroughly East Anglian woodwose with a club creeps up on another lion, and in the only vandalised scene Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. Details of the screen can be seen below. Hover over them to read the captions and click on them to see them enlarged.
There is another screen into the south chancel aisle, beautifully patterned. All Saints has three dressed altars, but perhaps the one in this chapel is the most beautiful.
The font is a curiosity. It has no designs on the eight panels of its bowl, but all of them are concave. The traceried panels of the shaft appear to be medieval. Can the bowl be old as well?
High above, the Royal Arms are to George II, and are only remarkable for being dated 1745, a notable date in English, Scottish and Irish history. Charles Stuart's attempted coup de'etat was a romantic fancy, and had no real chance of succeeding, any more than his grandfather James II was ever likely to have held onto his throne more than half a century earlier. And things would not have turned out well if it had succeeded.
The power of the protestant London merchant classes, which had formerly backed Cromwell, had also guaranteed the success of William of Orange's takeover of the English throne in 1688. That power was now deeply invested in the Hanovers.
But what of ordinary Catholics in England, Scotland and, most of all, Ireland? What of their hopes? They had been dashed along with the throne of James II at the Battle of the Boyne, and were now trampled with the troops of Charles Stuart into the blood-soaked fields of Culloden. No one had expected the Jacobites to succeed, but the fury with which the rebellion was put down had been startling. Those hopes would turn to a hurt, and it would echo uncomfortably for the emerging British State down the next two and a half centuries.
Simon Knott, February 2006
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