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

St Mary, Saxlingham Nethergate

Saxlingham Nethergate

burning bush clock and sundial quatrefoil peep hole

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    St Mary, Saxlingham Nethergate

Saxlingham Nethergatee is far enough from the Norwich to Ipswich road to be enfolded in a sleepy peace, with none of the awful traffic of neighbouring Newton Flotman. In common with several parishes in this area, Saxlingham Nethergate's name is a combination of Anglo-Saxon and Viking elements, the homestead of Seaxa's people and a outer road. Not only is it a lovely village, it has perhaps the most interesting church in the area, especially if glass is your thing. Set back from the village street with some fairly substantial houses for company, the church rests neatly in its graveyard, surrounded by the memories of 18th and 19th Century parishioners. The tower's unusual combined clock and sundial is a splash of colour, a smiling face as you walk up the path to the south porch.

The church, and the nave in particular, looks all of its big late 1860s restoration at the hands of Norwich diocesan surveyor James Benest when the substantial north aisle was rebuilt under its own roof, and the window traceries renewed. This crispness is apparent inside too, the aisle emphasising the narrowness of the nave, but the great treasure here is a collection of glass that had been installed by an antiquarian-minded rector in the the early years of the 19th Century, and which has been reset since.

Perhaps of the greatest interest are four roundels which are the oldest figurative glass in East Anglia. They date from about 1250, and predate the famous early glass at Elsing. Two of them show scenes from the legend of St Edmund, East Anglia's patron Saint. In one, he is martyred; in another, he offers the arrows, the instruments of his martyrdom, as a gift to heaven. A third shows what is probably the martyrdom of St Paul, and the fourth appears to be a composite of two figures, the Old Testament prophet Jonas and the patriarch Jacob.

St Edmund (13th Century) martyrdom of St Edmund  (13th Century) Martyrdom of St Paul? (13th Century) Jonas and Jacob (13th Century)

Some of the other early glass here is clearly from the Norwich School of glassmakers, while other panels are continental. Two fourteenth century Bishops, and two fifteenth century Angels and a Resurrection, are probably local, while continental roundels include an exquisite scene of the Holy Kinship,. St Anne with an open book seated beside the Blessed Virgin with the infant Christ, which is 17th Century. More fragmentary are the 15th Century English images of the four Latin Doctors of the Church. The most complete is St Jerome, his scarlet Cardinal's hat picked out vividly, a rare survival. St Ambrose is identifiable by his scroll.

St Jerome (15th Century) St Anne teaching the Virgin to read Resurrection
angel with instruments of the passion  (15th Century) St Philip St James the Less censing angel (15th Century)
fragments: angel head (15th Century) fragments: St Ambrose (15th Century) fragments: St Augustine (15th Century)
St Edward the Confessor (15th Century) Bishop (15th Century) bishop (15th Century)
eagle of St John angel of St Matthew
Angel playing a fiddle

The most striking glass, and amongst the best examples of pre-WWI 20th Century glass in East Anglia, is by Hugh Arnold, and depicts two East Anglian Saints flanking the Blessed Virgin. St Edmund stands above a scene of his martyrdom, and St Withburga above a scene of her establishing a church. Underneath Mary is an Annunciation, while above three gorgeous angels hold the symbols of the three Saints. It dates from 1910, roughly contemporary with Anning Bell's exquisite Adoration of the Shepherds not far off at Hethersett.

three Edwardian angels by Hugh Arnold (1910) Hugh Arnold window (1910) St Edmund, the Blessed Virgin and St Withburga
St Edmund by Hugh Arnold (1910) Blessed Virgin by Hugh Arnold (1910) St Withburga by Hugh Arnold (1910)
sola salus servire deo Hugh Arnold made me 1910
Martyrdom of St Edmund by Hugh Arnold (1910) Annunciation by Hugh Arnold (1910) finding of St Withburga's well by Hugh Arnold (1910)

There is a bulky 15th century font in the East Anglian style, similar to several others at churches around here, and another medieval survival is a consecration cross at the west end of the south nave wall. The screen is modern, but what appears to be part of a medieval screen is built into the east wall of the sanctuary. A more recent and haunting survival is the handwritten Roll of Honour from the First World War. This was filled in to show who had gone off to France and beyond, and it indicates those who did not return. A touching and fitting tribute then, a touchstone now.

Simon Knott, December 2020

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William III royal arms font John Warmoll, Gent
St Michael and the dragon St Michael St Michael's dragon Crucifixion
Never in the Field of Human Conflict go and do thou likewise: MS 1868

the preservation of all people of this parish


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