Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Church crawling in Norfolk

I have just returned from a most enjoyable weekend visiting
friends in north-west Norfolk. It was a great pleasure to meet
up with them again and catch up on news and plans for the future.

There was the additional pleasure of having some time with them
to do some church-crawling - something very easy in Norfolk
with its vast wealth of medieval churches. I like that part of
Norfolk, having got to know parts of it on pilgrimages to
Walsingham over the years. The train journey provided a
fine view of Ely cathedral and it occurred to me that the profile
of the west tower may well have inspired the design of that of
Great St Mary's in Cambridge.

The first visit was to St Edmund in Downham Market,
where my friends are currently living. The church was
in the possession of Ramsey abbey in the middle ages
and the building has a style less typical than other
Norfolk churches. It has a fine painted consecration
cross in the Lady Chapel from, I would guess - I did
not have Pevsner to hand - of about 1300, and some
interesting stones built into the exterior, including two
parts of a rather interesting grave slab. The church is on
quite an eminence, with the town clustered around it,
looking west across the drained fenland. It is easy to
see why it became a fuocus for settlement, commanding
that view to the west and the gradual slope eastwards
of the fertile low hills of west Norfolk.
We visited the delightful town of Castle Acre,
which has the great earthworks of its eponymous
castle, a town gate, the substantial remains of the
Cluniac priory founded in 1089, and the fine
medieval church of St James the Great. This was
a return visit for me, having been there almost
twenty years ago, but still very welcome. We
concentrated on this visit on the parish church.
There is a good account of it on the Norfolk
Churches site here. It has a splendid fifteenth century
font cover. I have reproduced their pictures
of the wonderful late medieval painted pulpit,
decorated with the four Latin Fathers of the Church.
We had a speculative discussion as to when exactly
the pulpit would have been used within the context
of the liturgy when it was installed.





We then went on to West Acre - a medieval church
substantially restored in what must, I imagine, have
originally been a Laudian style in 1638. There is an
account here. Immediately to the west of the tower
are the substantial ruins of the gatehouse of the
Augustinian priory of West Acre, and parts of its ruins
could be seen in the grounds of the house beyond. In the
parish church was a plan of what had been recovered
in excavations of the monastic site. The presence of
two substantial, if not enormous, monastic foundations
in adjoining communities from the late eleventh and early
twelfth centuries is yet another indicator of the wealth of
medieval East Anglia - notably evidenced by the
wondrous array of churches from those centuries.
On Sunday morning I went to Mass at the relatively
modern church of St Dominic in Downham Market.
The fairly recent extension has been further augmented
in recent years with a handsome and dignified Sanctuary
arrangement in stone, which provided a good setting
for a dignified liturgy yesterday morning. The picture
below is of the statue of St Dominic which forms part
of the reredos.

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