Sunday, January 06, 2013
A Hidden Jewel
Lynn's been over here on the correct side of the country for Christmas with her parents and yesterday I stole her away for a meandering drive out to the coast.
On our way, we swung by Hemblington; a tiny hamlet-ette only a couple of miles from my house, as one of Lynn's ancestors hails from there.
While there are myriad mediæval halls and merchants' houses littering the local countryside, many dating back pre-twelfth century in part, I know of no complete working class house from before around 1400 anywhere around here.
Here in east Norfolk, we're on glacial chalk and there is no natural, workable building stone (hence the round flint towers of Saxon times before the Normans floated Caen stone over here on barges to build the Castle and Cathedral) and most folk lived in one room hovels built around a very basic timber frame. These frames were infilled with wattle and daub (wattle being the young growth from pollarded willows woven into basketwork panels); the local daub being of clunch (chalk rubble), mixed with clay mud, dung and urine, and "puddled" (trodden into a squish) before being thrown onto the wattles. The outside was weatherproofed with slaked lime and the roofs were thatched. They needed rebuilding every generation so none have survived (other than the timber frames with later brick infill).
I thought I knew all the Saxon churches around here, so finding this one so close to home was a wonderful surprise.
Anyhoo … looking at the photo above (and ignoring the madwoman): the tower is ninth or tenth century, as is the greater part of the nave. The only surviving Saxon windows are the bell-frame windows at the top of the tower. After the Norman conquest, when the church was already old, the new French landowner added a chancel (the bit on the right) in the twelfth century Early English style (the first, simple, gothic style windows you can see there). A later Plantagenet landowner replaced the Saxon windows in the nave using the lovely Decorated Gothic style (thirteenth century), and much later, the landowner who emparked the village added the knapped flint crosses to the porch and replaced the thatched roof with pantiles.
Inside, however, was another revelation. Hoo boy!
In the last three decades, a renaissance has been under way and - very gradually - those original glories of gothic period church wall paintings have been painstakingly uncovered in a few remote churches.
Here in Hemblington is the finest I have ever seen: Saint Christopher carrying the Christ child, surrounded by other Bible stories.
When this was painted, Mass was a Latin only service and the "mystery" of the Church was maintained by keeping the population completely ignorant of what the Bible was about (no English language version was available until hundreds of years afterwards). So to educate the peasantry, stories from Scripture were painted on the walls; our great religious cultural history wilfully destroyed by the ignorant Victorians.
This example is - judging by the style of contemporary illuminated manuscripts - probably original to the church and therefore may even be as early as the ninth or tenth century.
Here's the thirteenth century font, repainted in its original colours. I've fallen in love with this little church and will be back in better weather to take more photos for you.
I'll leave you with Lynn, delighted to be sitting (and shivering) in the very pews her ancestor would have known all too well.
Toodle pip from Very Olde England!