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St Michael, Swanton Abbot

Swanton Abbot

Swanton Abbot the Swanton Abbot dead

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    St Michael, Swanton Abbot

Swanton Abbot is a curious place. The church is more or less at the centre of the parish, but there is hardly a house in sight, only the village school for company. The streets where the people live are half a mile away, in two groups, to the north and the south. And yet St Michael is a typical East Anglian church, a 14th century tower with a 15th century rebuilding of the nave and chancel, the most common arrangement. There are no aisles, no clerestory, just a wide nave spanned by a single roof. If it was in Suffolk, it would be even more typical. There are some serious gargoyles draining the roof, which Mortlock tells us was replaced in the 1970s, the old one being unable to cope with the span.

It was one of those humid early summer days in June 2019 which promised much for the months ahead but which would come to nothing. I stepped in to the cool, slightly damp interior, with a feel of the late 19th and early 20th century, though there's nothing too tidy and precise about it. All in all, it feels a pleasingly rural, rustic place. And there are a number of fascinating survivals here.

Up in the chancel is a clerical brass to Stephen Multon, who died in 1477. He is wearing eucharistic vestments with a high collar, the stole hanging down beneath. Multon is an interesting person, because he has left his mark elsewhere in the church in the form of the roodscreen, of which he was the donor. By a pleasing coincidence, the SM monograms in the carving can thus mean Stephen Multon as well St Mary or St Michael. However, another Rector has also left his mark on this screen, and not in a good way. It was rebuilt in the early years of the 20th century by the eccentric octogenarian Rector of the day. It was, as Pevsner puts it, not well done. For reasons that have not been handed down to us, but possibly because he disapproved of them, the Rector replaced the dado panels so that the figures face east rather than west.

Because of this they are easily missed by a casual visitor, and of course we cannot know now what the original order was. Has each panel been reversed, or were they reversed in their pairs? Was each side, north and south, reversed as a whole? Or was the whole screen reset but the other way around?

rood screen (south side, reversed): St Andrew, St Peter, St John, St James, St Jude, St Simon (15th Century) rood screen (north side, reversed): St Bartholomew, St Matthew, St James the Less, St Philip, St Anthony, St Thomas (15th Century)

The figures show, from left to right, on the south side: St Andrew with his saltire cross and St Peter with keys and a church, St John with his poisoned chalice and St James with his pilgrim staff and bag, St Jude with his boat and St Simon with his fish. On the north side, left to right, are St Bartholomew with his flencing knife and St Matthew with his halberd, St James the Less with his fuller's club and St Philip with his basket of loaves, curiously, St Antony with his T cross, and St Thomas with his spear. The pairings look absolutely right, more or less, and it is worth noting that if they were all reversed in pairs it would make St Anthony the first Saint on the north side, which may mean that Stephen Multon had a special devotion to him.

The reredos is an alarming piece of early 20th Century faux-gothic which may have come from the hands and tools of the same eccentric Rector as the screen restoration. However, Swanton Abbot retains an unusual set of royal arms to William IV, who wasn't King for long enough for many churches to get around to replacing the ubiquitous arms of George III.

Perhaps the most moving memorial here is set in the old bricks at the west end of the nave. It is a crudely cut brass plaque, the corners cut to make it cross-like.
It reads: O STAUROS (the cross), and then Elizabeth Knolles the third daughter of 7 of John and Margaret Wegge, the onely wife of Phillip Knolles, mother of 3 children, Thomas, John, Mari. Dying Ano Christi 1641 Septemb 18 aged 60 yeares, lyes here interred expecting a joyfull Resurrection. Valedictio Fili Johannis Qui Hoc Posuit. ('A farewell from her son John, who placed this').

it concludes: Chara vale mea, chara vale, tua funera flevi me consulatur celica vita tua... 'Farewell my dear one, farewell dear...' Across the face of the brass is the characteristic spattering of green staining of bat urine.

Simon Knott, August 2019

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looking east chancel
font Stephen Multon, 1477 here interred expecting a joyfull Resurrection (1641) angel lectern
William IV royal arms 1831


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