S. Peter,Great Walsingham

This church was built 650 years ago on a fresh site, leaving the previous church just to the North of it. So we find here that all the main features have the same date, say about 1320, which comes in the middle of the Decorated period. It was a time when the most beautiful designs of curvilinear tracery had just been developed and the churches had a grand sense of proportion and gracefulness. The building of Beeston-next-Mileham church probably followed this one within a year and the tracery is so similar that one assumes that they used the same master builder and stone-masons.

The Priory became patron about 1315, which suggests that they initiated the building of this church. The chancel was lost in the 16th century, probably quite soon after the dissolution of the monasteries. Just enough of the south wall remains for us to see that the chancel was the same date as the nave.

All the windows here have matching tracery designs. The north and south aisle windows have single reticulations, and their east windows have multiple double reticulations. There is a scratch dial on one of the south aisle buttresses, which is visible from the church path.

The clerestory is most striking with seven windows on each side. They consist of a Quatrefoil within a circle and have a semi-circular hood mould over the top of each. In the 14thcentury these may have been the normal style of clerestory, but in the Perpendicular period which followed round windows like this were replaced by larger ones and so very few examples remain of unaltered Decorated period clerestories.

The remaining fragment of the chancel wall includes a low-side window and the arch of one window which is recognizable as matching the aisle windows. The outline of the former chancel can be seen on the east wall of the nave. Two attractive domestic type Tudor windows were built into the chancel arch to make an East end.

On the north side there is a Victorian vestry, which was added by the Reverend. John Lee-Warner in 1860. It was designed to match the south porch except that it has a north window in the style of the Decorated period. Notice the demon head gargoyles.

The whole tower is also of the Decorated period. It has diagonal buttresses, turret stairs to the 2nd stage, and a plain shallow parapet, which reveals the pyramidal roof.

Inside hang its original three bells. This is one of the oldest sets of three bells by one founder in England, and it is extraordinary to find a 14th century tower still using the bells first cast for it. They were cast by William Silisden of Lynn, and their design suggests a date between 1330 and i350. They were rehung by Taylor of Loughbrough in 1976 for fixed chiming on steel joists. The original timber frame was re-erected around the bells.

The south porch was added to the church in the 15th century. In fact it is the only alteration to the church in the Perpendicular period. Its splendid doorway has many orders of mouldings to its arch and a hood mould terminating with headstops, which is repeated on the inside also. Canopied niches and a chequerboard pattern to the parapet make it a worthy example of its period.  There is a Holy Water Stoup in the corner of the porch.

Inside the Church

The church has a beautiful interior with all the main features unaltered since they were built. Even the roofs are largely original. They are arch braced and the nave has a decorative cornice.

The arcading has quatrefoil piers with shafts and fillets. The arches are different from the usual double hollow chamfered ones of this period, because here the two orders have rounded mouldings with a deep recess in between, which altogether make a very attractive composition. The tower arch and chancel arch are the same date.

Both side aisles have piscinae with trefoil heads. On the north side there is also a base for a statue and the rood loft stairs remain intact with both upper and lower doorways. An aumbry there has its ancient oak door and a lavish amount of iron strapwork on it and two locks.

The font is original, but has a strongly painted canopy which is probably basically Jacobean.

The pulpit is a very early one restored. It has Perpendicular panels on it, and the initials "LE.M. 1613" probably refers to a restoration of the woodwork, which could be two centuries older.

The Poor Man's Box at the east end of the nave has extraordinary iron strap work on an oak post with three locks to hold down the small lid. It is 15th century.

The wall painting on both sides of the church were mostly black letter texts, and on the south wall is a well preserved consecration cross. A wooden circle has been added to embellish it.

There are three inscription brasses in the centre aisle, dated 1593, 1632 and 1641 respectively.

The Royal Arms are for George I, (1714-1727). They show the arms of Hanover in the 4th quarter, comprising two golden lions of Brunswick, hearts and lion for Luneburg, silver horse for Westphalia, and the crown of Charlemagne.

The stained glass is the original for these windows, and just enough has survived to indicate that this church had a very extensive scheme of painted glass. The curvilinear tracery was difficult to accommodate scenes of saints and so sometimes only a head occupied the tracery with foliage in the smaller panes. On the north side can be found the Virgin Mary with her hands in an attitude of prayer, and the raised hand of our Lord; these belong to a scene of Coronation of the Virgin. On the south side are two heads of apostles. The lack of perspective in some canopy work suggests a date between 1320 and 1340, but there is also some canopy work by another glazier which could be 1340 - 1360.

The benches are one of the finest and most complete sets in Norfolk of 15th century benches. There is linenfold panelling on the front of the front row and many traceried backs.

The poppy heads are delightfully carved with differing foliage, including vine and oak leaves. The south aisle benches have most strange and grotesque animals on the arm rests.

The north aisle arm rests have figures which include the apostles at the front, namely S. Andrew, Thomas, Matthew, James the Less, Paul, Bartholomew, and they are followed by others unidentified.  Great quality of workmanship is combined in this church with great age and challenges us to use our talents to the glory of God as they did in Old Walsingham.

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