Beeston-next-Mileham Little Dunham Necton Wellingham

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

St Andrew, Wellingham

Wellingham: a jewel on a cushion

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    St Andrew, Wellingham
squat little tower   This was a pleasant place to come in the late afternoon, the fat light slanting across the great velvet cushion of the graveyard, the little church a jewel set in the middle. St Andrew was extensively restored quite late, in the 1890s. Mortlock says that the whole south side dates from this time.

This, in many ways, is a typical small parish church, similar to hundreds in Norfolk. But it has one outstanding treasure, the extraordinary dado to the roodscreen. The panels are painted with Saints and Christ as the Image of Pity; but instead of each figure being set formally against a background, each is part of a scene, as if this was a narrative. So, the court watches from the castle battlements while St George dispatches the dragon, St Michael weighs souls while the Mother of God uses her rosary to push down the balance in favour of sinners who have prayed to her, St Sebastian is punctured to excess while onlookers gaze in wonder.

The panels on the north side are, from left to right, I: now blank, but Walter Rye records St Anthony of Egypt and St Roche in the 1870s; II: St Sebastian punctured with arrows, and St Maurice with sword and lance; III: St George.

The panels on the south side are IV: St Michael weighing souls; V: The Image of Pity, Christ in the tomb surrounded by the instruments of the Passion; VI: now blank, but Rye notes the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury.

  Image of Pity

The St George panel is almost identical to the great wall painting of the same scene at Norwich St Gregory, across the county, suggrsting that both were rendered from the same source, probably an illustration in a manuscript.

The Image of Pity scene is perhaps the most haunting of all, now surviving in just the top half of a panel. The risen Christ stands in his tomb surrounded by the instruments of his Passion. Ecce Homo, it says above his head, but who are the two figures? Ann Nichols suggests Herod and Pilate.

II: St Sebatian and St Maurice St Sebastian (detail) St Maurice (detail) St George St Michael
St George panel (detail) St George panel (detail) St George panel (detail) St Michael panel (detail) St Michael panel (detail)
St George panel (detail) St Michael panel (detail) Image of Pity panel (detail) Image of Pity panel (detail)

The screen was the gift of Robert Dorant and his wives, and the dedicatory inscription dates the screen at 1532, right on the very eve of the Protestant Reformation. How fresh it must have seemed, even as the time came to put away these things. Its survival under the circumstances seems remarkable.

Simon Knott, November 2004, updated October 2006

You can also read: With Giants around Swaffham

   

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