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

St Michael, Stratton St Michael

Stratton St Michael: a special place

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 from the lane tower cock 

    St Michael, Stratton St Michael
  old fork-beard If I tell you that this church is set on the outskirts of Long Stratton, you might fear some dreary suburbia, housing estates and light industry; but nothing could be further from the truth. St Michael sits sleepily at the end of a long, narrow country lane, with only a converted barn for company. The slightly truncated tower with its jaunty little bell turret is a landmark from the A140. Close up, it is idyllic, surrounded by high-hedge fields and full on this early June morning with the shimmer of bird song.

This was my first church of the day, and such churches always set a tone for the day ahead. St Michael, thank goodness, was as lovely as its setting, a typical small country church with evidence of most medieval centuries.

There was an old bike leant up against the porch, and the door was wide open, so I stepped inside. Up at the altar, a nice lady was doing the flowers, and greeted me warmly. She was at pains to point out to me that the church is open every day - "you can always come and visit us, dear" - and I felt thoroughly welcome.

The font is 15th century, but something in the quality of the stone has allowed the moisture to soak through and reveal itself in the form of green damp on the outside. This is much more attractive than it sounds, giving it a real rustic, ancient feel.

There are a number of other medieval survivals. The most interesting are probably the benches, which are plain and simple, except for two that have figures carved in relief of the sides, in shallow niches. One of them is obviously a Bishop. There is also a scattering of 14th and 15th century glass fragments, collected together in one window. At the centre is the face of the Risen Christ shown, as is conventional, with a forked beard. There are two brasses, one from just before the Reformation and one from just after.

Perhaps the most interesting glass in artistic terms is the set of figures from the 1850s by Joseph Grant. In this out of the way place they are curiously pre-ecclesiological, their style as much the taste of the artist as that of any convention. I like St Margaret best.

Today, St Michael is in the same benefice as its urban neighbour, Long Stratton, and each Sunday it hosts an early Book of Common Prayer Communion, ensuring it a regular congregation of a dozen or more. The nice lady conceded that they weren't as 'modern' as the community up the road, which will probably be enough to ensure the survival of St Michael as a working church.

As I said, St Michael was the first church I visited this day, and it really buoyed me up. In my opinion, it is exactly what a Norfolk village church should be; quiet, simple, welcoming, with a feeling of its own past and a sense of its modern purpose.

I left, and headed onwards. If I had known then that St Michael was the last village church I would see the inside of all that long day, I might have glanced back and appreciated it even more. As it was, I headed towards Norwich from here through a succession of cold, unfriendly parishes with locked, hostile churches. For this alone I will always remember St Michael as a special place.

Simon Knott, June 2006

  St Margaret by Joseph Grant
   

looking east attractive, rustic font brass: pre-Reformation brass: post-Reformation
looking west chancel a typical small country church tower arch font 
Resurrection and Ascension by Joseph Grant St Peter and St John by Joseph Grant Christ the King by Joseph Grant bench end: Bishop bench end

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