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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Mary, Bessingham

Bessingham

Bessingham Bessingham

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St Mary, Bessingham

Sometimes, things just come together. It is getting towards a late summer afternoon in the early years of the century, and you are travelling through dusty, narrow Norfolk lanes when you come to a tiny village that you hadn't heard of, even though it has such a beautiful name. It sits in a sleepy fold in the hills to the south of Cromer, and at the top of the village is the delight of a small village church with an ancient round tower. Will it be open? Will it be beautiful inside? If so, your discovery will be complete.

The tower of St Mary is at that date when Saxon is becoming Norman, although Pevsner places it before the Conquest and compares the bell openings with those at Haddiscoe, observing that this is what the tower there might have been like before its later elaboration. The upper stage is largely constructed out of carstone, the gingerbread coloured stone found in the west of Norfolk. The church beside the tower is an almost complete rebuild of the 1870s, the 15th Century roodscreen being relocated to the great church at nearby Baconsthorpe where it now sits in the north aisle. Knowing this, it might be with a certain amount of trepidation that you will step inside, but there is no need to worry.

St Mary benefited in the early 1930s from a sensitive makeover which installed a scheme of Powell & Sons glass which is intimate and lovely in such a small space. The east window depicts Christ the Saviour of the World, with an exquisite Annunciation below it.. The earlier glass on the south side is by Kempe & Co and was installed at the time of the rebuilding. It is typically stuffy in comparison, but it does not intrude, and on a sunny afternoon the light thrown across the nave can catch the breath There are no great medieval survivals here, but the church itself is a treasure and a delight. To be here alone on a sunny day is like entering into the heart of a precious jewel.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east Bessingham looking east
Annunciation Christ in Majesty angel
Annunciation Christ in Majesty King David and Isaiah King David
Annunciation after 12 years of intense suffering

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk