Saints is absolutely fascinating, and deserves to
be better known. It may be overshadowed by
neighbouring giants Cley, Blakeney and Salthouse,
but how many people who visit those great ships
come here as well? And having just come from Cley
myself, there was something refreshing about All
Saints because it is, to all intents and
purposes, a typical rural village church.
It sits on
a rise above the busy Blakeney to Wells road. At
first sight, it is an awkward building, as though
a child had made a stab at a late 15th century
church and had put everything in the right place,
but not quite used the right shapes.
is actually very early, and the stark brick top is an
18th century repair after a lightning strike. But the
delight is the window tracery, thoroughly un-East Anglian
since, as at Cley, it predates the Black Death and does
not reflect the later wealth of East Anglia.
this is fascinating, but more fascinating still is the
clerestory. On the south side, the most westerly windows
are quatrefoils, and may be very early indeed; Mortlock
thought 12th century, although this seems pushing it a
same windows run the length of the north
clerestory. But the other windows to the east are
much later, probably early 16th century, and
there is a battlement above them. These
battlements extend westwards on both sides of the
church about halfway down the line of the nave,
but then they stop, although there appear to be
fittings for another set of battlements
immediately to the west of them.
guidebook suggests that these battlements were
destroyed when the tower fell - but I don't think
that can be right. It is hard for me to see how
such a small amount of falling rubble could have
done so much damage so far east without
destroying the roof in between as well.
are those Tudor windows as well. Either there has been a
very awkward repair job, or an early 16th century
westwards refurbishment of the clerestory was interrupted
by the Protestant Reformation. Whatever, it is
first sight on entering the church may well be
the tympanum above the chancel arch. It carries a
set of Royal Arms and a decalogue - that is to
say, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer.
It is badly in need of cleaning, and appears
older than it actually is. In fact, it is one of
the last Royal Arms and decalogue sets in England
that was put in its proper place. Royal Arms and
decalogues date from the Protestant Reformation,
when an attempt was made to assert not only
secular power of the state, but the basic
catechism of the reformed church.
Victorians, in their attempt to restore the medieval
integrity of English parish churches, relegated the Royal
Arms to the backs of churches, decalogues sometimes
ending up on the walls, or replaced with a new set around
the altar. That didn't happen there.
the most interesting survivals here bear witness
to the mindset of a different Church, in a
different age. In the 15th century, there was an
attempt to exert the official doctrine of the
Catholic Church, probably in the face of local
superstitions, of which there must have been many
in remote East Anglia.
screens of this time recall the faithful to
theological basics, and the screen particularly
demonstrates this well, with John, Matthew, Luke
and Mark, the four evangelists, on the north side
of the screen, and Gregory, Jerome, Ambrose and
Augustine, the four doctors, on the south side.
the papal tiara of Gregory and the cardinal's hat of
Jerome have been scratched out, probably by Anglicans in
the 16th century. These eight figures represent the
fundamental Biblical and Ecclesial basis of the Catholic
church. One interesting aspect of this screen is how
deeply set it is, with very large spandrels above each
Saint, with muscular carvings in them. These include a
pelican in its piety, and the ones above Luke and Mark
feature the evangelistic symbols of Matthew (not an
angel, but a winged man), Luke (a bull) and John (an
eagle) - the fourth should be the lion of Mark, but this
has been lost.
evangelistic symbols are also on the font, and
they alternate with four seated figures, who are
usually taken to be the four evangelists, but
might equally be intended to represent the Latin
doctors. To be honest, I was a bit distracted by
the knitted corpses around the base.
much else here. The corbels to the arcade, for
example, and an unusually large number of ledger
slabs. The Powdiche stone of 1647 is utterly
charming. Best of all, the stunning 1615 memorial
to Susanna Kinges at the east end of the south
aisle, surrounded by marble symbols of mortality:
a coffin being lowered into a grave, a skull and
crossbones, a bell, an hourglass.
I was also
very impressed by the enthusiasm of the churchwarden who
showed me around. He was extremely helpful and
knowledgeable, giving up a half hour of his time for Tom
and me, despite recognising me and expressing some doubt
about my attitude to his home parish, Wingfield, on the
Suffolk version of this site. He was, fortunately, very
Simon Knott, November 2004
You can also read: an introduction to the churches of Binham