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
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
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
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.
NEXT PAGE ON TRADES AND PROFESSIONS
PREVIOUS PAGE ON ROYALTY
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