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St Margaret, Suffield
The great treasure of St Margaret is the rood screen, and the hands that made it included that of the master carver at Aylsham. Although eight of the figures on the dado panels survive, the greatest interest here is in the carved spandrels. In pairs, they depict fables, comic allegories, marvellous beasts and Christian symbols. In one pair, a wild man with a club rushes at a dragon. On another, a pig sits on a barrel playing a harp while three smaller pigs dance beside a trough. Elsewhere, an eagle catches a rabbit while its luckier companion escapes into a burrow. On the adjacent carving, a pelican pecks its chest to feed its young with blood. An eagle bites the horn of a unicorn which has poked through the frame of the screen from the adjacent panel. The strangest and most vulgar depicts an ape in a friar's habit sitting on a stool examining its own urine, a comment on the contemplative habits of friars, while a fox defecates as it is attacked by geese, certainly meant to represent listeners turning on an unwelcome itinerant preacher.
The sequence of eight figures on the dado panels is an odd one. On the north side are the four Latin Doctors, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory and Jerome. Jerome has a little lion for company, and across the entrance to the chancel two more little animals accompany their saints, the bull of St Luke and the eagle of St John. These two Evangelists are repainted, and, oddly, they both have wings. Finally, there are two more obscure figures. One is the locally popular Sir John Schorne conjuring the devil into a boot, and the last is a figure in black, lifting his robe to reveal his armour, a bird perched on his arm. Obviously, it seems odd that there are only two of the four evangelists, while two of the eight Saints are little-known in comparison with the other six.
Simon Knott, August 2018
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