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St Mary, Docking
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St Mary is a fairly typical East Anglian town church of the mid-15th century, retaining the chancel of its predecessor. There is an irony in the fact that the top of Docking church tower is so significant, because from most angles it is all that you can see. This is a large village, and a large church, which is somewhat hemmed in by tight roads, the graveyard being full of mature trees. Try as I might, there was nowhere that I could stand and take it all in at one go. This is actually very attractive and interesting, although a little frustrating if you are trying to take a photograph.
As you would expect in this part of Norfolk, Frederick Preedy was responsible for a restoration, which is no doubt why the exterior is so attractive. However, Ewan Christian came along a few years later in the 1880s and redid the interior. But when you step into the huge nave, your thoughts will probably not be on either of them, for your first sight is of Docking's greatest treasure, one of the loveliest late medieval fonts in East Anglia.
The shape is elegant a narrow, chunky bowl in a proportion with the stem which gives the whole piece the appearance of a large chalice. The panels appear to show Apostles, but it is the beautiful stem which draws the eye, because here are eight female Saints in animated poses. Most easily identifiable is St Catherine with her wheel and sword, but there is also St Apollonia with her pincers, and, intriguingly, three seated figures holding babies. One of them appears intended as the Blessed Virgin and child, while another is probably St Anne holding the infant Virgin. The third may well be intended as St Elizabeth with the infant John the Baptist.
Apart from the font, there are no major medieval survivals. But there are some very successful Victorianisations of large medieval churches in this part of Norfolk, and Docking is certainly one of them. The glass is a delight. The most modern glass is the most striking, a compilation on the theme of bread which draws together the manna in the desert, the Last Supper, and the Eucharist. Of the earlier 20th century and Victotorian glass, there are some very fine details, incuding St Luke shown holding the icon he has painted of the Blessed Virgin and child, and a gorgeous scene of the Finding in the Temple, the face of Christ full of wisdom. There is a heart-stoppingly beautiful St Cecilia, and the collection includes some gorgeous angels.
But perhaps the most haunting window here shows a scene which is rarely laid in modern English church glass. This John Hardman's 1948 depiction of the story of St Gregory in the market place in Rome, coming across a group of English slaves and being struck by their beauty. When told where they had come from, he replied Non Angli, sed Angeli - 'not English, but Angels'. All about, other angels look on.
Simon Knott, September 2006
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