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

St Mary, Saxlingham Nethergate

Saxlingham Nethergate: sedate treasurehouse

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graves south porch and tower clock and sundial graves

    St Mary, Saxlingham Nethergate
Martyrdom of Edmund of East Anglia   This lovely village is far enough off of the Norwich to Ipswich road to ensure that it is enfolded in a sleepy peace, with none of the horrendous traffic of neighbouring Newton Flotman. In common with several parishes in this area, Saxlingham Nethergate's name is a combination of Anglo-Saxon and Viking elements. Unlike most churches around here, however, St Mary is open and welcoming. This is fortunate, because it is by far the most interesting church in the area, and a lovely one as well.

Set back from the village street, with some fairly substantial houses for company, the church rests neatly in its graveyard, full of the memories of 18th and 19th century parishioners. We came here on a fairly dull day, but St Mary's unusual combined clock and sundial was a splash of colour, a smiling face to the path that leads to the south porch.

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.

There is a bulky 15th century font in the East Anglian style, similar to several at churches around here, and another medieval survival is a consecration cross at the west end of the south nave wall. The screen is modern, but what appears to be part of a medieval screen is built into the east wall of the sanctuary.

So often, war memorials create a sense of distance, divorced from the actual experience of what war meant to the parish. However, here at Saxlingham the original handwritten roll, filled in to show who had gone off to France, and beyond, and not returned, is enshrined as the village memorial. A touching and fitting tribute then, a touchstone now.

  St Edmund of East Anglia, Blessed Virgin, St Withburga of Norfolk

Simon Knott, April 2007

looking east font screen memorial consecration cross

Never in the Field of Human Conflict WWII memorial window St Michael RAF  
East Anglian Saints window, by Hugh Arnold angel with the lily of the Annunciation angel with the church of St Withburga angel with St Edmund's arrows Annunciation
St Edmund of East Anglia Blessed Virgin and child St Withburga of Norfolk St Withburga
Crucifixion Hugh Arnold made me 1910 St Phillip St James the Less Resurrection
pentecost Bishop roll of honour East Anglian Saints window, by Hugh Arnold  
St Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross St Anne teaching the Virgin to read Gabriel at the Annunciation 1868
St Edmund is martyred, C1250 St John and St James, C1250 St Edmund offers up the instruments of his martyrdom, C1250 angel with instruments of the Passion angel swinging a censer
St Jerome St Ambrose angel playing a fiddle Bishop Bishop
1939-45 Toursor Emergency Exit royal arms
Rector in glorious memory lion on the font arcade
corbel head corbel head corbel head corbel head 

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