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

Our Lady Star of the Sea, Wells

Wells: Our Lady, Star of the Sea

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  Our Lady Star of the Sea, Wells
utterly gorgeous   Rain was general, all over Wells. This little town is at once charming and infuriating, but it does not attract posh Londoners to the same extent as neighbouring Burnham Market or Blakeney, and has that rare thing in England in the 21st century - a life of its own.

Actually, it would be truer to say that Wells has not actually reached the 21st century yet. I should estimate that it is up to about 1970 - it reminds me of how England was when I was about eight years old. Because of this, all the shops (and, bless them, virtually all of them are independently owned, hardly a chain store in sight!) start closing at 5pm. This wasn't great news in the rain, so we headed along the narrow lanes until we reached a large square unpromisingly entitled the Buttlands.

Well let me say that if I should ever win the National Lottery, I shall be heading straight to Wells to buy a house on the Buttlands. It is stunning. A long green, surrounded on four sides by large, fine early 19th century houses, most of them with three bays. It is utterly gorgeous. I dare say that my children would not thank me for moving them to remote north-west Norfolk, and I expect that even for me the novelty would wear off after about eighteen hours or so (What? Nowhere to buy a loaf of bread on a Sunday?!) but a man can dream. Pevsner gives the square a whole paragraph, but it seemed to me a well-kept secret.

In the corner of the square is a fine, late 19th century church in a red-brick Dutch style. It is the Catholic Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, the Stella Maris dedication that must have been common to many East Anglian coastal churches in the Middle Ages. There is a little porch, and an added continental flavour of having to go through an inner porch as well. Inside, the church is simple, traditional, all eyes focused east. A stone altar is surrounded by wooden panelling, and there are two side chapels, one to the Annunciation and one to the Sacred Heart.

Everything is all of a piece, although the font struck me as rather 1930s in its dour bulkiness. There is a pretty wooden gallery above the west door, although Our Lady is probably not as strapped for space as most East Anglian Catholic churches, because people can always zip six miles down the road to the vast Church of the Reconciliation at the National Shrine. Below the gallery is a lovely statue of St Margaret Clitherow, the martyr of York. The judge who sentenced her to death is buried on the far side of East Anglia at Holbrook near Ipswich.

We stepped out into the rain of the Buttlands again. What a beautiful spot! I could live here quite comfortably, sinning and confessing in the same square, getting out of bed a few minutes before Sunday Mass, and then, after Mass, going off in search of that elusive loaf of bread. Ah, dreams.

Simon Knott, May 2005


looking east sanctuary looking west Annunciation
Sacred Heart bulky font who she? memorial in the porch

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