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St Thomas, Norwich
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You step into a big, wide, open space, full of light and air. It is enchanting. The crispness is almost entirely a result of the events of the night of 27th June 1942, when the western side of Norwich city centre suffered intensive bombardment by German bombers. St Thomas was one of half a dozen Norwich churches to be destroyed that late spring and early summer. It was completely gutted, with only the outer walls left standing. It took ten years to be rebuilt, to the design of the Norwich firm Wright & Mason. What you see today is entirely the work of the 1950s and 1960s, which explains its Festival of Britain confidence, a near jauntiness.
The great treasure of St Thomas is Norwich's best collection of modern glass outside of the Anglican Cathedral. It is largely the work of the King workshop, and is the largest collection of King glass, again apart from the Cathedral. The best of this is in the south aisle, a sequence of East Anglian Saints of the 1960s and 1970s, the most notable of which is the image of Dame Julian of Norwich with her cat, which is often reproduced in books of her writings. People think it is in the cathedral or in the Julian shrine, but it isn't, it's here. Some glass in the baptistery, which I think may be by GER Smith for the AK Nicholson workshop, depicts the anointing of David, the Annunciation, the Presentation in the Temple and the Baptism of Christ, and remembers members of the congregation here. There is also glass by the William Morris of Westminster workshop, theirs is the vast and near-psychedelic story of the martyrdom of St Thomas in the main east window.
There is a particular smell to interiors of the 1950s and 1960s, something to do with the floor polish perhaps, which I find intensely evocative, taking me back to the self-confident institutions of my own childhood, and more recent visits to the likes of Coventry Cathedral and Liverpool Catholic Cathedral. The light wood of the floors and furnishings, and the white of the walls and ceiling, all contribute to this effect. I wandered around this wide interior with my heart lifted. That this is one of the most welcoming churches in the city only adds to the feeling.
Simon Knott, July 2009, updated May 2010
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