Visitor hotspots: How many of these 12 fascinating East Anglian churches have you been to?
PUBLISHED: 09:39 07 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:38 07 November 2018
PAUL JOHN BAYFIELD
They have been places of worship and community for centuries, and now East Anglia’s historic churches have been recognised as some of country’s most fascinating places to visit.
A study by the National Churches Trust rated more than 2,000 British churches, picking out the best tourist drawcards factoring in their interiors, stained-glass windows, churchyards, atmosphere, wildlife, monuments and social history.
Norfolk’s churches were found to have the highest percentage (96pc) of stunning interiors, meaning virtually all of them boast highlights like embroidered altar cloths, sculptures, wood and stone carvings as well as ancient and modern wall and ceiling paintings.
Nelson’s County was also lauded as the place with the most churches considered keepers of community history, with 61pc going to great lengths to shed a light on Britain’s past.
And Suffolk’s churches were found to have the highest percentage (72pc) of stunning stained-glass windows, judged by the people they depict, the stories they tell and their famous designers from pre-Raphaelites to modern day artists.
Bettany Hughes, vice president of The National Churches Trust, said: “We hope [the study] will encourage more people to become passionate about these tremendous buildings packed with memories of human life often dating back over 1,000 years.
“As well as signposting the best architecture, stained glass, and history, our data also includes information on visitor facilities, which allows us to suggest which churches are ‘five star’ attractions.”
Debbie Knowles is a warden of St John Baptist church in Garbodlisham, between Diss and Thetford.
She said of the church, which was singled out an excellent preserver of social history: “We were, and in some ways still are, a rich village. We had a manor and a hall, and two churches. St John’s has paintings of saints that were found in the 1830s, we think in pigsties, which were thrown out by Henry VIII during the Reformation as far as we can tell. We also have a very active local history society.”
Here are 12 fascinating East Anglian churches worthy of a visit.
1. St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham - This 16th century church is regarded as one of the finest buildings built of carrstone - a sandstone also known as gingerbread - in the whole world. It is not only Sandringham’s parish church, but is also a regular place of worship for the royal family, and inside you can find memorials to various royals.
2. St Agnes, Cawston - This medieval church was singled out by the National Churches Trust for its stunning interior. It has an original 14th century floor and three 15th century Misericords - narrow fold-down seats to take the weight off the feet of standing parishioners. The church also features a hammerbeam roof, resplendent with angels.
3. St Michael the Archangel, Booton - Known as the ‘Cathedral of the Fields’, this distinctive 19th century place of worship was created by the eccentric Reverend Whitwell Elwin, a descendant of Pocahontas and personal friend of Charles Darwin. He designed the entire structure, including the slender twin towers, himself.
4. St Peter Mancroft, Norwich - The city’s largest church contains one of the most impressive collections of church silver in the country. It was built in the 15th century to cater for Norman settlers in what was then known as the ‘French Quarter’.
5. St Mary’s, Burgh St Peter - Ziggurats are more closely associated with ancient Babylonia than rural Norfolk but St Mary’s, with its tower built in stages each smaller than the one below, is the exception. Samuel Boycott, who was not only the local reverend but the lord of the manor, was given permission to build the tower in 1793 as his mausoleum.
6. Holy Trinity and All Saints, Winterton - The tower of this slender structure soars 132 feet into the air, and it was built as a beacon for ships at sea as much as souls ashore. The maritime theme continues inside with a crucifix carved from ship’s timer, a trawler net canopy and a memorial to Father Clarence Porter, who died after saving a choirboy from drowning.
7. St Peter and St Paul, Fakenham - Some of the stones in the town’s parish church were originally laid by Saxons more than 1,000 years ago, and their place of worship was gradually replaced with the existing church between 1070 and 1450. The church is renowned for its annual Christmas tree festival, which this year begins on November 29.
8. St Julian’s Church, Norwich - One of the city’s oldest, this church includes the (rebuilt) cell of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century anchoress who had herself walled into the small room where she wrote Revelations of Divine Love, the first published book in English by a woman.
9. St Margaret, Herringfleet - St Margaret is the patron saint of women in labour and this beautiful little church in her name is a fitting tribute to her. St Margaret’s faith was so strong that she supposedly fought off the devil in a dream. The church won praise from the National Churches Trust for its brilliant stained glass windows, where the saint naturally features.
10. St Andrew’s, Bramfield - East Anglia is rich in round tower churches: Of the 185 surviving examples in England, 124 are in Norfolk and 38 are in Suffolk. And St Andrew’s is the only round tower which is detached from its church. Its nave windows are adorned with lilies, passion flowers and olives, and there is a striking 15th century rood screen.
11. Holy Trinity, Blythburgh - Nicknamed the ‘Cathedral of the Marshes’, legend has it the fearsome hellhound Black Shuck once burst through the doors during a thunderstorm in 1577, killing a man and a boy before causing the steeple to collapse. Scorch marks, said to have come from its claws, can still be seen on the north door.
12. St Edmund’s, Southwold - Considered to be one of Suffolk’s finest, St Edmund’s was built between 1430 and 1490 and is renowned for its flushwork - the decorative combinations of flint and ashlar stone. Following an award-winning renovation the church is now widely used by community groups.
Do you have a favourite East Anglian church? Share your photos and stories with reporter Stuart Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org