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St Mary Magdalene, Mulbarton
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We came back in Open Heritage Week 2010, and were pleased to find the church open, and being stewarded by a very jolly northern couple who had retired to Mulbarton. They had clearly fallen in love with St Mary Magdalene, and were full of enthusiasm. Fortunately, I already knew quite a bit about the church because it is a significant one, with more than its fair share of important survivals. Perhaps the best of these is the collection of medieval and continental glass in the chancel windows. They were assembled in the early 19th Century, but have presumably been reset since, probably by the King workshop. It is quite likely that none of it came from this church originally. Most memorably, a 15th Century Adam puts his back into digging with a spade, and this particular image is one of a pair, the other being Eve spinning: When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? But Eve is twenty miles away in Martham, and history records that a Rector moved from Martham to Mulbarton in the early 19th Century, bringing this Adam with him, and probably some of the other glass as well. Some of the glass is composite: what must have been an exquisite image of St Anne teaching the Blessed Virgin to read has been given the head of a prophet. Another dramatic figure, Powers from the Orders of Angels, bestrides the devil he has defeated, but he also has a prophet's head. A more complete figure may be an Old Testament king, although he has also been identified as St Ethelbert. There are two earlier figures of a king and a bishop, as well as two panels of continental glass, one of which depicts three prisoners, possibly the Apostles, and the other, a roundel, a continental Bishop. The 20th Century panels depicting a nun and a monk in the pose of donors is a nice touch, and above are two exquisite 15th century angels, one playing a harp and the other a lute.
Unless you are interested in old glass, the most striking and memorable feature of the church is its range of impressive and eccentric memorials. The best of these is beside the tower arch, and is an impossibly high memorial of 1675 to the lawyer and landowner Sir Edwin Rich. It is fully of its date, as lively as a Restoration comedy, surmounted by a huge hourglass which, now broken, looks like an upturned stool. I wouldn't have wanted to be underneath when the rest of it fell. The scrollwork is, as Pevsner puts it, coarse, as if done more with enthusiasm than skill. The inscription reminds us that Our lyfe is like an hower glasse and our riches are like sand wch runnes with us but the time of our continuance her and then must be turned up by another. It goes on to enjoin us to speake to God as if men heard your talke, and to lyve with men as if God sawe your walke. Famously, it continues that Thetford gave me breath, and Norwich breeding, but also records that he had to go to Cambridge for learning.
Sir Edwin is also mentioned on his brother Robert's memorial, a roughly contemporary tablet reset rather awkwardly beside the south doorway. Under a pediment which proclaims the key Christian virtues it notes that Edwin and Robert's father, an earlier Sir Edwin, was Knighted at Cadiz and bought this mannour in the 42 year of Q: Elizabeth, but later dyed and was buryed at Hartlepool. Robert himself was buried at nearby Swardeston in 1651, but later dug up and brought here to be laid in the family vault that the younger Sir Edwin had constructed.
Simon Knott, December 2010
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