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WAYSIDE ART IN EAST ANGLIA

PEOPLE

SAINTS AND MARTYRS

This twentieth-century stained glass window at Santon Downham Church in Norfolk depicts Saint Francis of Assisi with beautifully executed birds and butterflies.

This character standing against the side of a barn is actually the village sign at Capel St. Andrew in Suffolk.  He represents Saint Andrew  complete with halo over his head.  Note the St. Andrew’s Cross and the tree behind, which represents the woodland here.  A deer is peeping out from the other side of the trunk. The sign was made by Paul Richardson.

This sixteenth-century Dutch-style stained glass roundel in Brundell Church, Norfolk, depicts Saint Laurence in whose name the church is dedicated.  Laurence was a Roman deacon who was a generous alms giver.  He was put to death by the Roman emperor Valerian in 258 AD.  There is no historical evidence to support the story that he was roasted on a gridiron, which is usually his emblem and which identifies him here.

These two saints are carved in wood on the front of the choir stalls in Blythburgh Church in Suffolk.  The one on the left with the axe and book is Saint Matthias and the one on the right with the flaying knife is Saint Bartholomew.

At St. Andrew’s Church in Bramfield, Suffolk, there are five figures of saints on a fifteenth-century rood screen.  These two are Saint Mark and Saint Matthew.

These two chaps adorn part of one side of the tomb of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, which stands in St. Michael’s Church in Framlingham, Suffolk.  Around the four sides of the tomb are the full length figures of the Twelve Apostles together with Aaron and Saint Paul.

According to the church guide Thomas Howard’s tomb (right) ‘archaeologically bears comparison with anything in northern Europe, if not perhaps in Italy’.   The design is part French and part English.  It is the last major display of religious imagery in England before the Reformation.

This is the village sign at East Bilney in Norfolk.  It was erected in 1994 to celebrate the parish council’s centenary.  It depicts Thomas of Bilney whose family lived here.  He studied the scriptures at Cambridge where he became a close friend of Hugh Latimer, and became a priest.  He was a simple, honest and charitable person, but he arose suspicion when he rejected the idea of the mediation of saints.  In 1531 he was convicted with heresy, was imprisoned in Norwich Guildhall and then burned at the stake.  He also features in a stained-glass window in the parish church.

The village sign at Shimpling in Norfolk depicts Saint George slaying his dragon.

Below:  ‘The Green Dragon’ pub sign at Wymondham in Norfolk.

SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON

 

Saint George has been famous in England since the seventh century.  In the twelfth century he was adopted as patron saint by many members of the English nobility, probably because of the widely-held belief that he had helped the crusaders at Antioch in 1098.  King Edward III has the reputation for being the first to name George as England’s national patron.  Gibbon and others have argued that George was a bishop of Alexandria, but it is more generally believed that he was a high-ranking officer in the Roman army.  Some authorities state that he came from Cappadocia in Turkey.  The story goes that he was thrown into prison, tortured and finally executed in AD 303 after causing the collapse of a temple.  It may be that George was a Christian and that it was a pagan temple that he destroyed.

 

It is in a book called The Golden Legend, published in the later Middle Ages, that we first learn of George killing a dragon.  It had been terrorising a whole country, and he had agreed to kill it on condition that the inhabitants should all become Christians and that the king should maintain churches, honour priests, and show compassion to the poor.  The agreement was met and apparently fifteen thousand people were baptised.  At the same time, a princess was saved from having to marry the dragon.  It can be inferred from this that the dragon is a metaphor for an enemy.  In the Middle Ages many royal princesses were given in marriage by their fathers to enemy princes as a way of uniting warring peoples.

 

It is interesting that in the welsh language the word dragon meant leader.  When Gildas wrote about a ruler called Maelgwyn he referred to him as ‘the dragon of the island who had deprived many tyrants of their kingdoms and their lives.’  Perhaps the story of George is an allegory with the saintly knight representing England and the dragon symbolising Wales.  Certainly in the time of Edward III Wales was very much England’s arch enemy.  Or perhaps the story is simply about good triumphing over evil, which is likely to be so where George and his dragon are depicted in church wall-paintings.  There are several examples in East Anglia dating from the Middle Ages.

In the spandrels of the church porch at Palgrave there is a dragon carved in stone on one side and St. George on the other.

 

The choir stalls in the chancel of the church at East Harling in Norfolk have carvings on the armrests.  There is one of a dragon with its tongue out and a long twisting tail.

 

The village sign at Taverham in Norfolk depicts Saint Walstan carved and painted in light relief within a circle.  Carrying a cross in his right hand and a scythe in his left, he stands in a field with trees and a representation of the River Wensum.  Walstan was a local man, a member of a poor family, who worked as a labourer in the fields.  He died in 1016.  The sign was given by the WI in 1970 and was made by Harry Carter.

 

Pevsner describes the fifteenth century screen at Ranworth Church as ‘the finest surviving in Norfolk’ because of the very fine paintings on the base.  Arthur Mee tells us that twenty thousand people a year went to see it in his day (the early 1940s).  These had been hidden under a whitewash until they were revealed in the nineteenth century.  On the extensions east and west of the screen there are depictions of some of the saints.

 

Another rood screen considered to be one of the best in Norfolk is at Ludham Church, where twelve panels are painted with the figures of saints.  One of them is Saint Edmund, king of East Anglia, with an arrow, and another is king Henry VI who was made a saint.  The screen dates from 1493.

A modern treatment of St. George in stained glass window at New Buckenham Church in Norfolk.

Left:  Picture of a large and very early wall painting inside St. Mary’s Church in Troston, Suffolk. It depicts Saint George with a long sword on his horse slaying a dragon.  His head has been erased.  Elsewhere in the same church there is a smaller painting of St. George dating from about 1250.

Below are further examples of saints in the region.

When the east end of the south aisle at New Buckenham Church was returned to its former use as a chapel in 1968, new glass was placed in the east end window as a memorial to those from New Buckenham who died fighting in the second world war.  The glass has not only a depiction of St. George, but also four emblems representing the Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force.  The glass was designed by Alfred Wilkinson and made by G. King and Son of Norwich.

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In Great Ellingham Church in Norfolk there are stained glass windows with several saints represented.  The picture above shows a representation of Saint John and the picture below shows a representation of Saint Luke.  The picture on the right shows a representation of Saint James who is the church’s patron saint.  He is wearing a tunic and blue cloak, and carrying a staff.  It is this window that is represented on the village sign.

Left: Saint Peter, identified by the large keys that he holds, is depicted in glass at Forncett St. Peter Church in Norfolk.  The church is dedicated to him.

Below:  Saint Matthew, complete with wings, depicted in floor tiles in Gissing Church in Norfolk.