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

St Peter, Brooke

Brooke: handsome in the sunshine

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    St Peter, Brooke
screw-top tower   Brooke is a large village situated just off of the Norwich to Bungay road about seven miles south of Norwich, but it is saved from any sense of suburbia by a large village green and pond at its heart. The church is just to the north of this, and despite our proximity to Poringland and the neanderthal attitudes towards church opening of the benefice there, St Peter is a friendly and welcoming place. It is a handsome church, a pleasing mixture of ancient flint and bright red brick buttresses. The Norman round tower tapers more than most, finishing with a late medieval chequerwork parapet at the top which looks as if it might unscrew, like the lid of a jar.

There are hints of an early 14th century church here, but the most striking thing about the exterior is that we have small, brick-lined Tudor windows set in the filled-up remains of large Perpendicular windows. Now, these two styles are less than a century apart, so I wonder what happened here? Did the large windows destabilise the walls, and need replacing? Or was it simply a moneyed place, with one fashionable style following another?

Going in, I was struck by the age of the south door. It has carved arcading with lions heads in, and is probably 15th century. Perhaps the church was given a makeover at this time. Although the church appears tall and narrow from the south side, you step into a wide, square, light nave, enhanced by the north aisle. It is difficult to date, because the arcade is such a mixture of architectural styles; indeed, someone at this church seems to have delighted in making life difficult for 21st century church explorers. But that, of course, is part of its charm.

Brooke's greatest treasure, and its most famous feature, is one of East Anglia's finest Seven Sacrament fonts.

Brooke's seven sacrament font   These fonts, depicting the sacraments of the Catholic Church, were part of a late 15th and early 16th century project to engorce orthodoxy in the face of local abuses and superstitions. Ironically, the rich local families that paid for them were often the very same ones who would oversee the introduction and enforcement of Protestantism over the next half century.

The font at Brooke is part of the same group as that at neighbouring Seething and at Sloley in the north of the county; indeed, Seething's font appears to be recut, in which case it may very well be based on the example here at Brooke.

The font sits on a large pedestal in front of the tower arch, with a platform at the back for the Priest to stand on. Medieval fonts were designed for the total immersion of infants, which explains their shape. This practice disappeared at the time of the puritans, as infant baptism became increasingly frowned upon, and it was never really reintroduced when the puritans shipped off to America or started their own churches after the Act of Tolerance. You can see the babe being lowered into the water on the Baptism panel here.

From the east, the panels are Mass, the Priest with his back to the viewer raising the chalice, with a missal on the altar and a server on each side; Confirmation (NE), a crowd of young people gathered about a Priest; Ordination (N), a Bishop anointing the head of a Deacon; Baptism (NW); Crucifixion (W), the eighth panel, and the most usual to find as the odd one out; Last Rites (SW), the dying man's bed at an angle; Confession (S), the Priest seated as the penitents approach; Matrimony (SE) the Priest joining the hands of a couple. Click on the panels below to enlarge them.

from the east from the south-west
E: Mass NE: Confirmation N: Ordination  NW: Baptism
W: Crucifixion SW: Last Rites S: Confession SE: Matrimony

The Brooke font retains extensive traces of colour, and the finest feature is probably the sequence of angels underneath bowl, some holding scrolls with the painted text still visible.

Enthralled by the font, you might not notice a fine carved set of Royal Arms to Victoria suspended on the edge of the organ gallery above. There are a number of other fascinating carved wooden pieces around the church; the carving of the deposition fashioned into a cupboard door in the chancel was probably originally part of a Flemish altarpiece. And the wall above the arcade is what must be part of the original roof, a figure holding a sword and a church - could it be St Barbara?

The chancel is long and full of light, thanks to the clear glass in the east window surrounding the figures of Hope, Faith and Charity, rather more pleasing and serene here than across the A134 at Howe. But it is the font that you will remember.

  it is the font that you will remember

Simon Knott, March 2006


  looking east looking west sanctuary
chancel Hope, Faith, Charity royal arms lions on the south door
St Barbara? Flemish Deposition south door 

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