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

St Peter, Mundham

Mundham

Mundham Mundham Mundham

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St Peter, Mundham

This pretty little church sits on a mound above the road between Loddon and Seething, which has cut down beside it as the centuries have passed. There were two parishes in medieval times, and the ruins of St Ethelbert sit about half a mile away to the east. The parish church of Seething is much closer, a couple of fields to the west. St Peter is small, its typical late medieval massing creating an illusion of size. As at Seething there is a 14th century chancel, but here there was great enthusiasm on the eve of the Reformation, when the nave windows were all replaced. The fine Norman south doorway, a festival of scrolls, leaves, zigzags and rolls, is a reminder that there was a church here long before all that happened.

You enter a building which is about as typical an East Anglian country church as I know. There are no great excitements, simply an ordinary church talking of the generations that have adapted it according to changing liturgical needs and fashions over the centuries. There are brass inscriptions to two of those former parishioners, apparently from the same family, each fascinating for being close to the Reformation but on different sides. The first, of 1538, asks us Of your charitie pray for the soule of Henry Arborn whois bodie lieth buried under this ston, tells us that he died in the XXIX yeir of our sovreign lord kyng Henry the VIII and concludes by hoping on whose soule Jesu have mercy amen. This must be one of the last examples of the use of prayer clauses in a memorial inscription in Norfolk, for shortly after this prayers for the dead were outlawed. Almost eighty years later, the other memorial is to William Harborne, and consists of two separate plates beneath a shield and above what appears to be an inlay for another plate. Remarkably perhaps for this quiet little backwater, Harborne was the ambassador to Constantinople during the later years of Queen Elizabeth I's reign. His inscription is wholly secular, and bids us to Behold a dead man's howse who full of dayes reetirde here from the world. Desert and praise should sitt upon his grave in vertuous strife, this to instruct and that to wright his life. Heires, spare your cost, he needs no toombe in death who embassagde for Queen Elizabeth. His next will be when at the generall dome God sends his soule to fetch his bodye home.

'behold a dead man's howse who full of dayes retirde here from the world', 1617 William Harborne, 1617 'Of your charitie pray for the soule of Henry Alborn whois bodie lieth buried under this ston', 1538

William Harborne lies beneath the pretty 15th Century screen, the chancel beyond all of a simple 19th Century restoration, probably contemporary with the north aisle of the 1880s. This seems to have been a busy time at Mundham, for the area beneath the tower was converted somewhat uneasily into a railed baptistery with a simple faux-Romanesque font. A 13th Century Purbeck marble font in poor condition lies up one corner, and I can't think of any reason for it to be there other than it was the original font before the 1880s restoration, possibly pressed into service as an animal trough and then later returned to the church. More memorable in any case is the fireplace set on the south side under the tower. About half a dozen of these survive in Norfolk. They are often referred to as wafer ovens, though as Eamon Duffy has reminded us, at Mass in a medieval church only the priest would eat the communion wafer. The villagers took it in turns to bake the bread which would be blessed on the altar and then distributed amongst the congregation. The Reformation would bring this tradition to an end.

As often in churches in this corner of Norfolk, the remains of a 15th Century St Christopher look down from the north wall. He's in poor shape, but is a particularly interesting example because not only does the floral border survive, but there appears to be the remains of a scroll level with the saint's head. There's a similar survival at Creeting St Peter in Suffolk, the inscription barely discernible as an invitation to say a prayer before the image. St Christopher was and is the patron saint of travellers, and the great fear towards the end of the medieval period was the danger of dying unshriven, which is to say not being able to make a deathbed confession and receive absolution. Since this was most likely to happen on a journey, St Christopher's assistance was called upon, for as the Latin inscription at Creeting St Peter reminds us, Whosoever reverences this image shall feel no burden in his heart today.

Simon Knott, October 2021

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south doorway looking east looking west
fireplace under the tower sanctuary St Christopher with scroll and floral border

   
               
                 

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