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

St Andrew, Norwich

St Andrew: a landmark

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tower and norch 'porch' west door reappearing among buildings in the pedestrianised heart of the city south porch

    St Andrew, Norwich
Dance of Death   Norwich still has more working Anglican churches in its city centre than many people realise, and St Andrew is one of the best known, especially to anyone who drives through the middle of Norwich. Along with St Peter Mancroft and St Stephen it is one of the biggest, its north side grand and majestic opposite Blackfriars hall. The other three sides are hemmed in by shops, and the great tower a landmark appearing between other buildings as you wander around the pedestrianised heart of the city. In fact, the north side was also hemmed in until the 20th century, when the buildings were removed to widen the road for trams.

St Andrew is not as late as St Stephen, but it was built almost entirely in one campaign from the 1470s to the first decade of the 16th century, making it contemporary with the great church at Southwold in Suffolk, with which it has some similarities. The tower came first, and then the great unbroken line of nave and chancel; there is no chancel arch.

There is a porch set into the most westerly bay of the north aisle, but the main entrance is through a grand south porch, hidden from the street. The west doorway is now blocked off by a room built beneath the tower. Although the church is built of stone, there is very little of it in the construction, because the aisles, the clerestory and the chancel are virtually walls of glass. The way that the arcades fade into the east end, and a high window rises above them, may recall Shelton; and indeed the team that worked at Shelton are generally credited with finishing the church here.

Norwich has been guilty in the past of keeping many of its medieval churches locked, and St Andrew has not always been easy of access. This seems a shame; Ipswich, a much less fine place but perhaps a friendlier one, has managed to keep all its working town centre churches open daily, or at least accessible. And St Andrew is certainly well worth seeing inside. And also, it would be an act of Christian hospitality in itself for shoppers to be able to step out of the busy crowds into its cool, light interior. For, unlike St Stephen, this is a church that is full of light.

We came here on National Heritage Open Day, and we found the church packed with people, some of whom were on a guided tour, but many of whom appeared to be parishioners intent on showing people around. This made it rather hard to wander at will; it was nice that they were so interested, but I did get the impression that some of them thought they were doing us a favour by letting us in. And I think that, more than at St Stephen or St Peter Mancroft, this is a church in which you'd want to sit quietly for a while, and experience a sense of the numinous. Hard to do with someone tapping you on the shoulder and asking if you want a cup of tea.

As with many of the Norwich city churches, St Andrew has been overwhemingly Victorianised, and the interior is very much a 19th century idealised vision of what the late middle ages might have been like. Unlike St Stephen, it has been done rather well, and might best be described as sumptuous. I wonder who the architect was? It may have been Diocesan architect Richard Phipson, who made a bit of a hash of St Stephen, but he was on good form at St Peter Mancroft and was glorious at St Mary le Tower in Ipswich.

Whoever it was, they left one of the most ornate 19th century fonts in Norfolk, and far off to the east a reredos to match. In between, the church unrolls before you; as at St Stephen there are massive 18th and 19th century memorials set between the windows of the arcades, but they are rather less oppressive here, perhaps because the church is bigger and there is more light.

Set up in windows towards the west of the south aisle are some fine, large medieval panels, one of which comes from a Dance of Death; it shows Death dancing with a Bishop, and you can see an image of it at the start of this piece. Another is a composite of bits of angels; some of them are musicians, and one of them is holding a scroll saying salve nos. Another medieval survival is a scattering of brasses, one a pair of figures in the sanctuary to Robert Gardiner and his wife. He was mayor of Norwich on several occasions during the building of St Andrew, and died soon after its completion. His wife is particularly elegant - both figures are flatteringly young for their age of death.

angels Robert Gardiner Alice Gardiner 

delightfully ghoulish   Whoever restored St Andrew in the 19th century relegated the large Elizabethan and Jacobean monuments to the north aisle chapel, where they are concealed by a Victorian screen. They show several late 16th and early 17th century mayors of Norwich with their wives. The biggest is to Sir John Suckling and his wife Martha. Mortlock notes that he was James I's treasurer, and also observes that the figures look stiff and uncomfortable. His parents face each other over a prayer desk on the eastern wall, flanked by some delightfully ghoulish skulls. In between there is a memorial to Francis Rugg, also three times mayor, who was a Senator of Senators renowned race. Robert Garsett is the most endearingly lifelike, another mayor who died in James I's reign.

Sir John and Lady Martha Suckling the elder Robert Suckling and wife facing each other over a prayer desk Robert Garsett, 1614

I wandered back down to the west end again, picking through the crowd. The font cover was reassembled from 17th century fragments found in the belfry, but the font below it had been done up as some sort of display. I thought at first that it had something to do with Nelson, but as one of the exhibits seemed to be an orang utan glove puppet, I may be wrong. Whatever, it was nice to see that people had been busy, but I would have liked to have seen the font in its natural state, presuming that they don't leave it like that all the time.

The theological temper of the dead mayors in the north aisle chapel may perhaps be gauged by two panels now on show at the south west corner. You can see them below. The top one, from the middle of the 16th century, says:

This church was builded of timber, stone and bricks
In the year of Our Lord God XV hundred and six
And lately translated from extreme idolatry
A thousand five hundred and seven and fortie.
And in the first year of our noble King Edward
The Gospel in Parliament was mightily set forward
- Thanks be to God Anno Dom 1547 Decemb

and the one below, from the early 17th century, continues in similar vein:

As the good King Josiah being tender of age
purged his realm of all idolatry
Even so our nobel queen and counsell sage
Set up the Gospell and banisht popery
At twenty-fower years begun her reign
and about forti foure did it maintain
Thanks be to God

I think that panels like the top one must have once been more common, and that this is a rare survival. It is a reminder to us that the Church of England nearly didn't exist at all; if Edward VI had lived, and had gone on to impose all his ideas, then there would have been no more Bishops, no more sacraments, and we would all have become presbyterians. The second panel is even more interesting; it was obviously placed by members of a puritan congregation after the death of Elizabeth, to flag up their concern that the incoming James I might have been more tolerant of those evil, treacherous, sulphur-breathing Catholics. They needn't have worried.

Simon Knott, November 2005

   

puritan plaques look east This church was builded of timber, stone and bricks...
looking west - hi, Tom! sanctuary that font in full north side of the font reconstructed font cover
south aisle glass John and Martha Suckling

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