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St Andrew, Scole
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The blaze was started by an arsonist, and was pretty thorough. By morning, all that remained were the tower, the font and the walls up to eaves level. Work started on reconstruction straight away, and has left something unique in the county, an 1960s interior still redolent of the excitements of the Festival of Britain and Anglican post-war optimism. And there's something more: it is an ill wind indeed that blows nobody any good, for one of the elements of the refurbishment was a superb east window by Patrick Reyntiens. He is most famous for the baptistry window at Coventry cathedral, which he created to the designs of John Piper.
I have previously recounted the story of how, when I first came this way in May 2005, I was refused entry. This was the first time this had ever happened in visits to more than 1,500 churches, so it took me a bit aback, I can tell you. I had phoned the churchwarden of the time, who made it quite clear that the building wouldn't be opened to visitors. I later discovered that other people had experienced the same thing, which is obviously unfortunate, and no way to run a parish church.
In the couple of years, however, that had been a complete change of heart at Scole. The Diocese of Norwich appointed an Open Churches Officer, a European-funded initiative to 'promote and interpret' medieval churches by supporting PCCs in opening as many churches as possible and improving facilities for visitors. His name was Ralph Barnett, and fortuitously he lived in Scole. At the same time, the churches of the Scole benefice had appointed a new and energetic Priest. It was as if a wave of renewal was running up the Waveney Valley. Churches kept locked in living memory except for services were making themselves accessible. St Andrew went one better - it is now open in daylight hours every day, with a big sign outside to tell you so.
The window appears at first to be a complete abstraction, but as you examine it you see that it is a collection of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, organised in a relatively conventional style. The central image is the Resurrection, flanked by the Crucifixion and the Ascension. At the bottom is the serpent and staff of Moses, and Jonah being swallowed by a whale. Up at the top is the Lamb of God seated on the heavenly throne. All very dramatic.
A quieter set of images fills the east window of the south aisle, rather more in the style of the previous decade. This depicts the Risen Christ, flanked on one side by Mary Magdalene meeting Christ in the garden, and on the other by Christ and his comanions on the road to Emmaus. I thought this window was lovely, and it offsets perfectly the medieval font below it, rescued from the ashes of the fire.
Simon Knott, June 2005, revised May 2007
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