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St Nicholas, Potter Heigham
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Nicholas, Potter Heigham
St Nicholas may not be immediately available for private prayer and reflection as other churches are, but if it is a museum then it is a good one, full of fascinating details. The most striking on entry is Norfolk's only brick font (Suffolk has another at Polstead). It appears to be 15th century; there are banded details which have eroded, but may have been trefoils. Curiously, the very name Potter Heigham suggested that this was a place where clay for bricks was to be found. But it is for its wall paintings that Potter Heigham is justly famous. The best are the Seven Works of Mercy in the south aisle. A woman in a shawl is shown in the seven scenes depicting Christ's injunctions. In the best of them, she comforts a dying man, while in another she offers a loaf of bread to an old man who is hungry. In a third, she opens her door to give shelter to a homeless stranger who is dressed in the garb of a pilgrim, a message to locked churches if ever there was one. The paintings in the south aisle must have been a sequence of the life of Christ, and the best surviving images are of the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Shepherds. A tall standing figure is probably St Christopher, but I can't help thinking that he looks a lot like medieval images of St James.
High above the chancel arch you can still see the outlines of the group of figures of the Blessed Virgin and St John which flanked the rood. The cross there now is modern, but below there are surviving figures on the dado of the 15th century roodscreen. The gates are now missing, and as often in Norfolk as the Reformation approached, the figures of the four Evangelists (St Mark holds a delightful pet lion) and the four Latin Doctors (St Jerome spendid in his cardinal's hat) have pride of place. But also here is a rare survival, St Eligius, the patron Saint of farriers. He holds a hammer and a staff.
Above all this, the hammer beam roof is a lovely crowning, intimate in scale in what is not, after all, a huge church. A brass plaque in a chancel window is a simple reminder of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The Twentieth Century has added its details: a wooden screen dated 1947 is a war memorial, and there is a gorgeous roundel of St Nicholas in a window of the south aisle.
Simon Knott, November 2008
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