This is a strong, handsome church in a
pretty village, one of several with unusual names in the
fertile, rolling landscape between Diss and Attleborough.
After the Conquest, this area was covered by a vast
hunting forest, and even today it is possible to stand on
the rise of the churchyard and imagine the treetops
spreading to the horizon.
you have a vivid imagination, you might populate
the woodlands with argumentative knights and
pilgrims, for the parish was the subject of a
great medieval legend, the Sword of Winfarthing.
It was said that one knight killed another in a
dispute over a woman, and sought refuge in the
church. No doubt he claimed Benefit of Clergy
(meaning, simply, that he could read and write)
and was allowed to flee into exile.
sword remained and, for whatever reason, it
became a relic imbued with supernatural
properties. Thomas Becon's Reliques of Rome
(1563) recalled that a wife who wanted to rid
herself of an abusive husband could achieve this
by praying and setting a
candle before that swerd every Sunday for the
space of a whole yere, no Sunday excepted, for
then all was vain whatsoever was done before. Its help
was also sought for thinges
that were lost and for horses that were eyther
stolen or were alse run astray.
Today, the sword is itself lost,
gone astray like so much else in the holocaust of the
Reformation. But what became of it? Perhaps it was melted
down. Or perhaps it was buried, and it still lies under
the ground somewhere in the fields of south Norfolk.
|Just like tourism today,
pilgrimage brought prosperity to a parish, and
this may explain why St Mary underwent a fairly
sumptuous rebuild in the early 14th century. The
nave is rather striking, the larger Decorated
windows and the quatrefoil windows of the
clerestory seeming to alternate. The late Middle
Ages and the 19th century brought further
refurbishment and refinement, leaving us with a
crisp, comfortable interior that is lighter than
it might have been, given the economy of the
striking feature of the interior is the huge,
tublike font, which sits at the west end. It
actually appears to be parts of two separate
fonts joined together, and Pevsner thought the
octagonal top part was probably a Victorian
addition to the Norman stem. Whatever, the most
interesting thing about it is the pair of faces
on the eastern pillars of the base.
||There is a collection of
medieval glass fragments compiled into two
roundels in the upper lights of the east window,
but otherwise the sanctuary is spare and simple,
though rather less stark than that of
There are two slightly unusual
memorials. The 1754 wall monument to John Edwards
appears to have been inscribed by an unskilled,
amateur hand; and yet the moulding of the plaque
itself is very good, and surely must have been
bought off-the-shelf from a skilled stonemason. A
brass plaque at the west end reveals puritan
sentiments in its Latin inscriptions: Post
Tenaebras Spero Lucem it says, and Post
Mortem Vitam Aeternam: 'After Shadows I Hope
for Light', and 'After Death the Life Eternal'.
In the north side of the chancel a
modern window dedicated to two Cole brothers depicts a
plough, a stag, and the Sword of Winfarthing.
Simon Knott, March 2006