The lamb has often featured as a subject in the decorative art of the region. Although
in East Anglia in the Middle Ages many towns and villages grew wealthy as a result
of a thriving wool trade, it has not been sheep-farming that has been the main inspiration
for using sheep as a motif, but the Christian faith.
In the Bible it is written that John the Baptizer described Jesus as ‘the lamb of
God that taketh away the sins of the world.’ So in many of our churches there are
pictures and carvings of lambs that represent Jesus as the sacrificial victim. It
stems from the Jewish celebration of Passover, which commemorates the saving of the
Israelites in the time of Moses. By sacrificing a lamb and marking their houses
with its blood, their firstborn children were spared from being killed.
While a lamb often stands for a symbol of Jesus, in the Gospels sheep on the other
hand represent the faithful.
Above: Picture showing detail of the nineteenth-century font at Needham Market Church
in Suffolk with the carving of a lamb that represents Jesus.
The altar in St. Michael and All Angel’s Church in Occold in Suffolk is made of light
oak. On the front there is a carving of a lamb (shown above). As at Needham Market
it likewise represents Jesus. Here it is accompanied by the inscription ‘Agnus Dei
qui tollis peccata mundi misereri noblis’ which means ‘Oh lamb of God that takest
away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.’
The lamb and the book, together with the dove, are symbols that are also associated
with John the Baptizer who, according to the Bible, saw the Holy Spirit enter Jesus
in the form of a dove.
The photo on the right shows part of a stained glass window in Mendlesham Church
in Suffolk. Dating from about a century ago, it depicts Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd’.
This lamb on top of the village sign made in wood at East Harling in Norfolk is in
commemoration of the local lamb fairs that used to be held here. The sign was presented
by the 1st Boy Scout Group in 1953 to mark the Queen’s coronation. The post has
several carvings on it of rural subjects, including for example, an ear of corn,
an acorn and a rabbit.
This is another wooden sign, this time at Shipmeadow in Suffolk. The two sheep denote
the old spelling of the village - Shepemeadowe - which meant ‘meadow for sheep’.
They are framed by a triangle representing a yacht, because the village is situated
on the River Waveney. The sign was carved by local carpenter, Fred Howlett, in 1982.
Right: This village sign at Lammas in Norfolk is made of wrought iron. Depicted
on it is an ass as well as a lamb, being a pictorial pun (or rebus) on the name Lammas.
As at East Harling (above) it was made in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of
Queen Elizabeth. It was designed by Miss Williamson of Lammas Hall and was made
by Eric Stevenson of Wroxham.
A pair of lambs depicted on a weather vane on a barn at Langmere in Norfolk.
This ram (above) perching on the village sign at Debenham in Suffolk is a reference
to the past wool trade in the area. Also represented is the bridge here over the
River Deben. Notice also the wheatsheaves: a well-known variety of barley had its
origins here. The sign was erected in 1977 by the villagers to commemorate the Queen’s
In the picture below we have lamb as well as cow motifs on the front of what used
to be a butcher’s shop in Market Street, Wymondham, in Norfolk.
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Above is a lamb, representing Jesus, depicted in a stained glass window in Great
Ellingham Church in Norfolk.
The picture below shows a stained glass window in Cawston Church in Norfolk. Cawston
is one of only a few English churches that is dedicated to Saint Agnes. The choice
of dedication may be due to the fact that from the reign of Edward I an annual fair
was held in Cawston on Saint Agnes Day. The word Agnes is the Latin word for lamb,
and since the sixth century, Saint Agnes’s principal emblem has been the lamb.
The lamb in the Cawston window is lying on a book, and there is a sword behind and
a dove above. Agnes was killed with a sword in AD 305 and a sword is often an emblem
associated with her, as well as the lamb. This further suggests that it is Agnes
who is represented here rather than Jesus.