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All Saints, Shelfanger
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One thing not immediately obvious from the north side is that the tower is set off centre. Your first thought is that the nave has been extended southwards, but there is no trace of an arcade. The beautiful modern scissor-brace roof is no clue, although there is a quatrefoil window at the south-west corner of the nave. The chancel is aligned centrally rather than on the tower, and this makes the situation even more curious, because we know that the chancel and the tower are almost exactly contemporary.
How do we know this? Mortlock records that in 1966 a workman restoring the chancel discovered that the wall at the east end was partly hollow. The inner plaster was broken to reveal wonderful wall paintings, of the highest artistic quality. Now set in a pointed arched alcove on the south side and a low arched alcove on the north, they are probably part of a sequence of the life of Christ. In the extreme south-east corner, the angel appears to the shepherds on the hillside. Next, on the north, the most dramatic and imposing scene, the Adoration of the Magi; they offer their gifts to the infant Christ, who is seated on the lap of the Blessed Virgin. The paintings have been dated to the late 13th century, almost certainly original to the building of the church. There is something similar at Little Wenham in Suffolk.
Otherwise, this is a substantially Victorianised building, with a Victorian set of royal arms, simple benches and some reasonable glass that resisted my attempts to photograph it at 5pm in late February. Part of the medieval roodscreen is reset on the front of the ringing gallery, and the font is fine and substantial, with the crowned letters A and B. Not Andrew and Bartholomew, but the initials of donor Adam Bosville, says Mortlock.
I might add that, in common with the other churches in this benefice, Shelfanger church is welcoming to visitors, rejoicing in its commission to allow pilgrims and strangers 'within the gate'. A friendly church, and an interesting one too.
Simon Knott, March 2006
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