Category Archives: the medieval imagination

Women and Women saints in Norfolk’s medieval stained glass

Most surviving stained glass features tracery figures. Human beings as well as angels, populate the windows; women appear mainly as Virgins, and other saints, whilst men are prophets, patriarchs, kings and clerics – and both appear as patrons.

Anne Boleyn, wife of Sir John Shelton (relative of Queen Anne Boleyn). Donor, Shelton church c1500-1505.

The most common image of a woman in Norfolk glass is the Virgin Mary, who appears in scenes including the Annunciation, the Assumption and the Coronation of the Virgin, as well as multiple Nativities. There are a few images of Mary Magdalen (Burnham Market, photo) and many more of the myriad virgin saints. The most popular in Norfolk were St Margaret of Antioch, usually portrayed slaying a dragon, St Catherine the Great (with her wheel) and St Barbara (with her tower). Others include St Juliana and St Agatha. There are good examples at Cley, Stratton Strawless, Martham and Salle

The virgin Mary, part of an assumption scene at Bale.

The photos in the carousel below are all of donors and women saints:

Norfolk’s medieval stained glass. What links Martham with Mulbarton?

I have always thought that Norfolk’s medieval stained glass is an underrated legacy of the middle ages. It has a distinctive style and high quality craftsmanship as well as deep rich colours and some superb draftsmanship.

This was brought home when I first visited Martham, St Mary church where there is a superb collection of fifteenth century Norfolk glass, probably made in one of the workshops in Norwich. It has been restored to a greater or lesser extent and reset in the east windows of the north and south aisles. I hope the photo gallery below gives testament to this.

But what links the glass here to the glass in Mulbarton, St Mary Magdalen? It’s Adam and Eve. Eve spinning and fully clothed is portrayed in Martham and Adam delving and fully clothed is in Mulbarton , along with them, both naked with fig leaves on their expulsion from the Garden of  Eden.

Eve, spinning. Martham

 The story goes that a vicar moved from Martham to Mulbarton (about 20 miles) at the beginning of the nineteenth century bringing with him the two Adam and Eve panels from Martham and setting them in the East window at Mulbarton.

Adam digging, Mulbarton
Adam and Eve, Mulbarton

In his notes on Mulbarton, David King (the authority on Norfolk’s medieval glass) detects the work of  William Mudesford, a Dutch immigrant who worked for the main glazing workshop in the city from panels depicting the Passion in St Peter Mancroft (Norwich)

(https://hungatedotorgdotuk.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/stained-glass-trail-5-1.pdf)

Scourging of Christ, St Peter Mancroft
The Entombment, St Peter Mancroft

Apart from this connection, the glass at Martham is (in my opinion) of outstanding quality – many angels including St Michael the archangel weighing souls and a number of saints, including East Anglian favourites, St Edmund (holding the arrow of his martyrdom) and St Margaret of Antioch (spearing the dragon). One of my favourites is Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist in his camel hair. And in the scourging of Christ I wonder if we see the faces of the men of mid fifteenth century Norwich and Norfolk?

One problem with looking at medieval stained glass in situ is that you often can’t get very close to it. When you see whole windows (as in St Peter Mancroft and East Harling, Norfolk’s best known examples) it is hard to see individual panels and easy to be overwhelmed by the effect of the whole, beautiful as that may be. You really need a long lens or a pair of binoculars and the best way to see the glass (apart from being up on a ladder or scaffold or seeing it when it is being repaired in a workshop) is probably through photographs. Even then a protective grill can take away from its beauty. In most of these photos of Martham I have got rid of the exterior protective grill by using Photoshop – a rather tedious process.

There are other issues with looking at medieval stained glass. Much was lost during the iconoclasm of the Reformation both in Edward vi’s reign and the period of the Civil War (1642-1660). A lot of glass simply deteriorated over time and was lost that way. It’s rare to see windows as they were, when they were created which means that interpretation of the glass is often problematic and speculative. As David King says most of the glass we see today in many churches is a “patchwork of miscellaneous fragments.” But the skill and artistry of those that made them shines through.

Further Norfolk stained glass sources:

Stained Glass Tours around Norfolk Churches. David King. Norfolk Society 1974

https://hungate.org.uk/downloads/      a series of trails leading to much of the best of  medieval Norfolk stained glass.

http://www.norfolkstainedglass.org/Norfolk/home.shtm

another excellent site including Victorian and modern examples

http://www.cvma.ac.uk/jsp/locationIndex.do?countyCode=NF

There is much on Norfolk stained glass here including this index and an incomplete guide but exhaustive research by David King.

http://www.therosewindow.com/pilot/intro-england2.htm

The Rose window site by Painton Cowen an exhaustive guide of English and French stained glass. The Norfolk section now includes about 40 churches (largely updated by me)

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/

Simon Knott’s excellent guide to Norfolk churches





Norfolk Medieval Angels. 2 in wood and stone.

There are innumerable angels in Norfolk’s medieval churches. The county is known for its angel roofs, mainly carved between 1400 and 1520. They can be easily missed if you don’t look up. There are also angels carved in doorways, on fonts and bench ends. I have used both black and white and colour and sometimes left the same photo there in both. Sometimes the angels portray images of Christ’s passion (as at West Walton and Kings Lynn, St Nicholas). There is a selection below. For more information and superb photos of angel roofs see also Michael Rimmer’s superb book, Angel Roofs of East Anglia: https://www.lutterworth.com/title/angel-roofs-of-east-anglia. For more on Norfolk carving see http://www.mascotmedia.co.uk/books/from-bears-to-bishops.html

 

Norfolk medieval angels. 1 stained glass

I have been taking photos of Norfolk’s medieval angels over the past three years and thought it was time to share them online. There are other categories to come (wood and carved stone and painted – on wood or walls). Sometimes they are portrayed as celestial musicians; there are a few annunciations and even a devil (after all, a fallen angel) as in the case of St John the Divine.

A huge amount of medieval stained glass was lost in the protestant iconoclasm (particularly in the reign of Edward vi and later during the English civil war). Often the glass has been collected together and repositioned in the church centuries later. I have isolated most of the angels although the Mancroft angels are a part of scenes from the gospels. Most of them were created in Norfolk although one or two (like Denton, I think) came from elsewhere. Some are dirty and need repair work, others are beautiful and expressive.

Norwich was a major stained glass making centre from at least the thirteenth century and often the angels were designed to fit into the pointed arches of traceried windows. Some think that the feathered angels derived from medieval mystery plays. Guilds of performers travelled the country with pageant carts enacting various biblical dramas. The angels were portrayed in suits, covered with feathers. Stained glass making took off in Norfolk and especially Norwich in the fifteenth century with newly rich wool merchants commissioning much of the work. You can sometimes see depictions of the donors in the windows (though not included in this selection of angels).

A good website for English and French medieval stained glass is The Rose Window which gives brief explanations and photos. There is an English county index with many Norfolk churches listed, including many of my photos: http://www.therosewindow.com/

For Norfolk stained glass both ancient and modern see: http://www.norfolkstainedglass.org/Norfolk/home.shtm

Click on one of the photos -it will fill the screen and you can see the rest full size on the carousel:

My first book: From Bears to Bishops

Norfolk has the greatest concentration of medieval churches in the world – 659 in one county – and this wealth of history is open to everyone. From Bears to Bishops focuses on the medieval wood and stone carving on display in these churches, all of it about 500 years old or more. The size and splendour of the buildings themselves can sometimes distract from the detail revealed in this book.

The book contains 156 high quality black and white photos mainly of oak bench ends but also stone font panels and corbels. ‘Black and white enhances the detail and texture of the wood and stone in a graphic and often atmospheric way,’ says photographer Paul Harley. ‘It helps to reveal the skill and imagination of the anonymous craftsmen who present their world to us. The voices from long ago speak to us still, revealing our terrors, suspicions and desires in lumps of wood and stone.’

Dr Rebecca Pinner of UEA says in her foreword: ‘This is a beautiful, surprising and important volume that will stand for many years to come as a key point of departure for all who want to discover and explore the artistic gems preserved within the treasure hoards of Norfolk’s medieval churches.’

From Bears to Bishops contains a useful index of more than 60 featured churches and an historical essay by the photographer on the development of seating arrangements and carving in churches before the Reformation.

Available from mid September 2018 but you can order now from Mascot Media.

120 pages (220mmx 220mm), softback. ISBN: 978-1-9998457-6-6 UK price: £17.95 Published by Mascot Media Email: info@mascotmedia.co.uk

http://www.mascotmedia.co.uk/books/from-bears-to-bishops.html

www.mascotmedia.co.uk

 

From Bishops to Bears covers.indd

BTBp108-109BTBp1

Animals, beasts and mythological creatures in Norfolk’s medieval churches.

I have posted many of these before. This is an attempt to impose some order on the many photographs I have taken of the medieval carving I have found in Norfolk’s churches. They are all medieval to the best of my knowledge. For further information about the carving see previous post. If anyone knows some of the names of the mythological beasts please let me know. Comments welcome.

 

More Norfolk carving in wood and stone

I’m thinking of reorganising the Norfolk carving posts into themes possibly mythical beasts, people and animals, but until I do here are the next set of photos.

More Norfolk medieval wood and stone carving

Most of these photos were taken in the last few months and there is a heavy bias towards the Marshland churches, especially the magnificent Walpole St Peter and Wiggenhall St Mary the Virgin, whose set of bench ends is second to none in Norfolk, although I find the latter’s atmosphere lacking compared to my favourite churches, perhaps because it is no longer used. Some of the carving is crude, some has been damaged by the ravages of time or perhaps the iconoclasm of the Reformation, and some is excellent. Most of all these photos provide an insight to the medieval world and imagination.

Exhibition at St Peter Hungate church, Norwich – September 3rd – October 30th 2016 (open Saturdays 10-4, Sundays 2-4)

I have enjoyed Norfolk churches for years, often stumbling on them on bike rides. Many sit lonely in fields, their villages having moved their focus over the centuries. Some are simple and humble, a few are grand and spectacular, but many reveal secrets forgotten or barely known except to a few experts, or individuals who help maintain them and keep them open.

This exhibition has given me the chance to combine two of my passions – photography and churches. The county has 659 medieval churches with a wealth of history on offer. My focus here is mainly on some of the medieval wood and stone carving, most of it 500 years old or more. I have chosen to represent this work in black and white. It enhances the detail and texture in a graphic and often atmospheric way, revealing the skill and imagination of anonymous craftsmen who present their world to us. There are mythical beasts, green men, wodehouses, animals and the faces of the people themselves – frozen in time, like photographs. Sometimes the carving is highly skilled; sometimes it is crude, basic and yet oddly powerful.

I have included a few colour photos – it’s hard to imagine stained glass without colour – but there was no space for the many rood screens or wall paintings and more general shots of interiors and exteriors. It was hard to make a choice. It was often difficult to take some of the photos in natural light. But just as photography ‘freezes a moment in time’, the carving and stonemasonry of the medieval period are also frozen moments from long ago.

All of these photos are of objects that predate the Reformation. They survived the extraordinary iconoclasm of the reign of Edward VI (1547-53), when stained glass was smashed, wall paintings were whitewashed, rood screens had their faces scratched out, pew ends were vandalised and images were stripped. It is surprising that so much survived.

One of the joys of visiting a church is seeing up to a thousand years of history in one building. There are additions made to churches through the centuries – round towers, perhaps topped centuries later by an octagon, Norman arches, different styles of window, medieval tombs, eighteenth century knights portrayed as Roman senators, Victorian stained glass, twenty first century furniture. Some have children’s play areas, and books for sale and remain centres of the community. More often than not these buildings are open. Some now have a kettle and coffee or tea bags and invite you sit down and drink and reflect. Others may be reached along a track in a field and yet are free and open for what may only be a rare and solitary visitor. Some churches are locked, but usually there is a number to call and that often leads to an interesting conversation with the key holder. Long may these churches, which are both examples of ancient folk art and still places of worship, remain so welcoming.

I have not visited them in any systematic way and can only admire the single mindedness and love shown by my guides to the churches I have visited: Simon Knott’s excellent Norfolk churches website: http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/mainpage.htm with his huge knowledge and finely written personal accounts and Mortlock and Roberts with their detailed, unembellished and thorough outlines. My thanks too to all the people, who have kept these buildings open.

Most of these photos will be in an exhibition at St Peter Hungate Museum of Medieval Art (http://www.hungate.org.uk/). The exhibition will 0pen September 3rd 2016 and end October 30th. The museum is open on Saturdays from 10-4 and Sundays 2-4. all the prints will be for sale. I will post details of the prices nearer the time.