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

St Clement, Terrington St Clement

Terrington St Clement: the cathedral of the marshes

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
west front postcard towers, spires and flying buttresses
a delicacy to the vastness ne'er the twain shall meet chancel window south transept - hmm...
tower window from the north nave and north transept chancel 
south transept reset image stool grotesque - I mean, really grotesque Apparently an image stool - a praying late 15th century woman

    St Clement, Terrington St Clement

Despite my natural arrogance, I still have the capacity to be gobsmacked; this is what happened to me as I stood in the churchyard looking at the west front of Terrington St Clement, the so-called Cathedral of the Marshes. This Dec-becoming-Perp church is simply enormous, 168 feet long and cruciform, with an elegant separate tower sitting immediately beside it. The tower was originally intended for the crossing, but despite massive piers inside the builders lost confidence, and built it beside the west front instead. Perhaps because of this, this huge building is not bulky or clumsy; the clerestory continues into the transepts, to reappear triumphantly in the chancel, and imparts a delicacy to the vastness. Flying buttresses, turrets and spires complete an almost wedding cake effect.

Like many huge churches, St Clement repays a tour of the inside before one of the outside, giving you a sense of the soul beneath the skin, the ghost in the machine. The south side is best, with its pyramid of windows on the transept; the transept itself asking a few questions with masonry appearing to be intended for a lost chapel - was it ever built? - and some terrific 14th and 15th century grotesques, including an imp that is the spit of Italian TV puppet Topo Gigio. At least one of these appears to be an image stool reset in the wall, in which case they might all have been collected here, probably by Victorians. My only quibble is that the church is kept locked, a key in the adjacent house and another at the village shop. No real cathedral would be so, of course.

The interior can’t live up to it, being pretty much all Victorianised, but it is still an awesome space to wander in. This is obviously low church in character, but I liked the way they had organised the nave so that, despite the vastness, it is still used for worship. On Sundays they have a central altar under the crossing, but when the church is not in use this is moved into the south transept (along with the drumkit) and the long vista to the east is opened up. I think that the stepped image niches above the crossing arch must be a Victorian conceit.

Internally, the most famous feature is the towering font cover, which seems to have been put together by someone very clever in the early 17th century, cannibalising something 15th century Perpendicular and putting it over an opening stage which is warmly painted with scenes from the Baptism of Christ and the Temptation of Christ. Voce Pater Natus, it says, Corpore Flamen Ave! Mortlock thought these paintings might be Flemish panels, and not actually intended originally for the inside of a font cover.

In common with several churches around here, there is a Georgian screen towards the west end of the nave, leaving a kind of narthex behind with space for tables, etc. There are massive decalogue boards now reset in the transepts. They can be dated to 1635, and Mortlock thought them the best in England.

I liked this church far more than I expected to, not normally warming to huge churches, but being won over by its homely character inside. We went and sought out the new village Methodist church, which was quite a contrast, and then we set off, finally leaving the straggle of Kings Lynn suburbia behind, racing out across the flat fenland to Walpole, and its two churches.

Simon Knott, July 2005

looking east towering font cover chancel looking west sanctuary
a Victorian conceit? opening stage of font cover baptism of Christ east window
internal corbel grotesque Queen Anne arms massive decalogue arcade face
looking towards the tower from the north transept Topo Gigio 19th century roof boss

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