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St Andrew, Norwich
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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.
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
and the one below, from the early 17th century, continues in similar vein:
As the good King
Josiah being tender of age
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
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