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

St Giles, Norwich

St Giles: an important part of the townscape

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15th century porch, 21st century travellers the highest point within the old walls 

    St Giles, Norwich
a tower intended to be seen   Norwich is not short of large, urban churches, but St Giles is a little different in that it is almost entirely the work of the 14th century, and is thus Decorated in character rather than Perpendicular. The porch and chancel are later, but given that the bulk of the place is earlier than the other big rebuilds, it is interesting to note that St Giles stands on the highest point within the old city walls, and its tower is the tallest of any Norwich city church. This tower was intended to be seen, and it was planned that it would be important.

Today, it forms an important part of the townscape, up there with St Peter Mancroft and the two Cathedrals. The nave floor of St Giles is at the same height above sea level as the famous roof bosses of the Anglican cathedral. St Giles sits close to the Catholic cathedral (you can just see its tower at the bottom left in the top photograph), and in the absence of other towers in the immediate vicinity St Giles tends to gravitate towards it; the two form something of a pair either side of the sunken inner ring road.

Richard Phipson was responsible for the considerable restoration here, rebuilding the chancel completely in the style of the rest of the church; the old one had been demolished in the late 16th century. The interior is almost entirely his work, a Victorian church within a medieval shell, and has a similar character to his St Mary le Tower in Ipswich, except for the great blessing that most of the coloured glass in the nave is gone, and St Giles is filled with light.

The furnishings are not of themselves terribly exciting, but St Giles, like many Norwich churches, is firmly in the Anglo-catholic tradition, and statues and shrines abound, giving a hint of colour to the large interior. Some of these came from other Norwich churches as they became redundant. There are surviving medieval brasses, the best of which are pairs to two couples, the Perdaunces and the Baxters, both from the 15th century, and a chalice brass to a former Priest. There is also one of those enormous 15th century East Anglian latten lecterns, an eagle supported by little lions at the feet; I think this may be the one that used to be in St Gregory.   latten lectern lion

The Norwich city churches tend to wear their mayoral mace and sword rests like trophies, a reminder of the Mayors provided by the parish over the centuries - St Giles has no less than five sets of them. Another reminder of the civic importance of St Giles is the large number of generally very good memorials to past worthies, especially of the 18th and 19th century - they make a fascinating study in themselves. But this isn't a stuffy, antiquarian place; rather, it has the feel of a living church, and the occasions on which I've visited I've always found it warmly welcoming. For that, and for being so obviously well-used and loved, I like it very much indeed.

Simon Knott, November 2005


looking east Phipson's chancel Richard Perdaunce's little dog
latten lectern St Giles and his hind Blessed Virgin and child looking west Thomas Churchman, 1781
Perdaunce brass Baxter brass Anne Baxter mayoral trophy


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