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St Mary, Saxlingham Nethergate
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The church, and the nave in particular, looks all of its big 1860s restoration, when the aisle was rebuilt and the window traceries replaced. However, the restoration was by a ecclesiological enthusiast, and has left one of the best glass collections in the Norwich area. Not all of it came from this church, and some of the glass that we know was in the church in the 1860s is not there today. It has been set as if to display a collection, which makes it fun to look at, and interesting to compare.
Perhaps of the greatest interest are four roundels which are the oldest figurative glass in East Anglia. They date from about 1250, and predate the famous early glass at Elsing. Two of them show scenes from the legend of St Edmund, East Anglia's patron Saint. In one, he is martyred; in another, he offers the arrows, the instruments of his martyrdom, as a gift to heaven. A third shows the brothers St James and St John, and the fourth is another pair of brothers, St Philip and St James the Less.
Some of the early glass here is clearly from the Norwich School of glassmakers, while other panels are continental. Two fourtheenth century Bishops, and two fifteenth century Angels and a Resurrection, are clearly local, while continental roundels include an exquisite scene of St Anne teaching the Blessed Virgin to read, which I think must be 17th century. More fragmentary are the 15th century English images of the four Latin Doctors of the Church. The best of these is St Jerome, his scarlet Cardinal's hat picked out vividly, a rare survival. This in particular suggests that much of the collection may have been acquired from private hands originally, perhaps in the early years of the 19th century.
There are more delights in store for enthusiasts of modern glass. A magnificent St Michael forms the World War Two memorial in a south nave window, and then beside it is one of the very best 20th century windows in Norfolk. This is by Hugh Arnold, and depicts two East Anglian Saints flanking the Blessed Virgin. St Edmund stands above a scene of his martyrdom, and St Withburga above a scene of her establishing a church. Underneath Mary is an Annunciation, while above three gorgeous angels hold the symbols of the three Saints. It dates from 1910, roughly contemporary with Anning Bell's exquisite Adoration of the Shepherds not far off at Hethersett. Both windows are valuable documents of the cutting edge in English artistic taste on the eve of the First World War.
Simon Knott, April 2007
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