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St Peter and St Paul, Salle
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and St Paul, Salle
During their awesome reign over the other great teams of Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, Liverpool football club placed a huge sign in the changing room corridor, so that it was the last thing visiting teams saw before they walked out on to the pitch: This is ANFIELD, it warned. The name alone was enough to impress. Similarly, the cover of the guidebook here proclaims, in a single word, SALLE. Again, it suffices; the word, pronounced to rhyme with call, stands for the building. Perhaps only the name Blythburgh has the same power in all East Anglia.
Among them were the Boleyns, the Brewes, the Mautebys, the Briggs, the Morleys, the Luces and the Kerdistons, and some of their shields appear above the great west door, along with two mighty censing angels, characteristic of late medieval piety. A steady stream of hefty bequests meant that no expense needed to be spared, and the mighty tower with its vast bell openings was topped with battlements and pinnacles on the very eve of the Reformation.
As at Blythburgh, St Peter and St Paul benefited from the restraint of a late restoration, and the building as we see it now has no external Victorian additions. It is all of a piece. The porches either side are huge affairs, matching the transepts, and give the effect of a vast animal, a dragon perhaps, sprawling with erect head in the Norfolk countryside. Its tail is the chancel, in itself longer and higher than many Norfolk churches. The aisles are tall, austere, parapeted, the Perpendicular windows arcades of glass. In the porches, the vaulted ceilings are studded with bosses; the central one in the north porch depicts Christ in Majesty, sitting on a rainbow in judgement.
You enter the building from the west, an unusual experience in East Anglia, and your first sight is of the seven sacraments font with its tall 15th century canopy, similar to the cover at Cawston. This one is so big it is supported by a crane attached to the ringing gallery under the tower.
You can see all these panels below - click on them to enlarge them. The font step has a dedicatory inscription to John and Agnes Luce, asking for prayers for their souls. We know that John died in 1489. Perhaps the actual fabric of the building was complete by this date.
Beyond the font stretches the vastness of the building, the arcades gathering the eyes and leading them forward to the great east window. The chancel arch is barely there at all, just a simple high opening; but as MR James pointed out, it was never intended to be seen.The sheer bulk of the rood screen dado tells us quite how vast the rood apparatus must have been here, and the arch would have been pretty well hidden. Everything is built to scale; although everything has been cut off above the panels, probably in the late 1540s, the panels themselves are enormous, almost six feet high. As at Cawston, St Gregory, St Jerome, St Ambrose and St Augustine, the four Doctors of the Church, are on the doors. Either side are just two surviving paintings; to the north are Thomas and James, to the south are Philip and Bartholomew. The empty panels are a mystery; the screen stood here for a century before its destruction, so it must have been finished; and the dado seems too high to have been hidden by nave altars. And yet, it has all the appearance of never having been painted.
Because the building is so vast, the surviving medieval glass seems scattered, but there is actually a lot of it and some of it is very significant. Some was moved during the restoration of the early 20th century, when the hideous modern glass in the north transept was installed, and the yellow galley lozenges were thankfully replaced with clear glass in the 1970s. The images in the east window are mainly figures; old kings kneel before young princes, there are armoured men and angels, the remains of a scaly dragon. In the centre at the bottom is a perfect Trinity shield, displayed by an angel looking askance.
Some of the panels are now in the south transept. These include fragments of a set of the orders of angels. A kneeling figure is Thomas Brigg, donor of the transept; the scroll behind him begins Benedicat Virgo, 'Blessed Virgin'. The mother of God sits surrounded by red glory, and two women holding croziers, one of them crowned, may be St Etheldreda and St Hilda. Certainly, the crowned figure holding a cross is St Helena. You can see all these above.
There is a fine set of return stalls in the chancel. Although Salle probably never had a college of Priests, all those Masses for the dead must have provided plenty of employment, because we know that there were seven Priests here at a time when the population of the parish was barely 200. Bench ends include heads, a dragon tied up in a knot, a restored pelican in her piety, and a monkey. The misericord seats feature faces, including one that is quite extraordinary.
Curiously, it has been rather awkwardly converted into a three-decker arrangement, probably in the 18th century, with the addition of a platform and desk from a set of box pews. A large sounding board has been placed overhead. The box pews suggest that the medieval furnishings were replaced at an early date, although the replacements too have gone now.
Salle is one of those churches full of intriguing little details that might easily pass you by, so great is the wonder of everything around. Those two little corbel heads above the south door, for instance - what were they for? Perhaps they supported an image that could be seen from the north doorway as people entered, although not a St Christopher as the guidebook suggests, I think. There is a pretty piscina in the unfortunate north transept that has been outlined in wood, a memorial and helm above, a tall image bracket in the corner of the wall of the south transept, a floreated piscina nearby.
One part of the building that many visitors must miss is the chapel above the north porch. There is no sign indicating it; but the doorway, at the west end of the north aisle, is always open. Inside, the vaulted roof is punctuated by spectacularly pretty bosses which you can view at close quarters. The colour is a bit fanciful, but they are fascinating, particularly the central boss of the Coronation of the Queen of Heaven - how on earth did that survive the Reformation?
You can also read: an introduction to the churches of Cawston and Salle
an introduction to the churches of Cawston and Salle
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