The third Round Tower Church on our church crawl at the start of January, was the delightful church of St Mary’s, West Somerton in Norfolk. The church guide book says…..Between the Norfolk Broads and the Sea….. and if the weather had been like this Sundays, we would have seen the sea, but it wasn’t, as you can tell by the exterior photos. The weather was a mixed bag that day, sunny one minute and stormy the next. The church is in a lovely elevated setting in a trim and very picturesque churchyard and very unashamedly rural, so typically Norfolk.
The exterior of the church has a very pleasing mixture of mellow colours and textures, in the building materials that were used. The tower is faced mostly with whole flints. The roofs of the nave and porch are thatched with local reed and sedge from the Somerton reed beds, some of the finest reeds for thatching come from the Norfolk Broads. The tower is about 55 feet high. If you look at the tower you will see the ‘put-log’ holes, into which fitted the scaffolding used when the tower was built. The core of the Nave walls may be 11th century and experts believe that tower must have been added to a previously tower-less church. But the craftsmanship you see today, is of c 1300 and more was added from the late 14th or 15th century.
When entering the church and when your eyes adjust to the colours of the walls, you suddenly notice the 14th century wall painting. These must have been exquisite when they first adorned the wall of this little church. The whole church would have been covered from ceiling to floor in wonderful paintings depicting scenes from the Bible and everyday life, on what and what not to do. They remind us of what medieval churches must have looked like before the Reformation and they help to serve as the ordinary people’s religious eduction in the days when few could read and fewer still could understand Latin.
The large painting on the south wall was uncovered in 1867, beneath numerous coats of whitewash. Its shows Our Lord’s Second Coming in Power and Great Glory. Unfortunately they are now very faint and you have to look really hard to see them, but what is left is rather special, given their age.
There are other parts of paintings that can be seen, but I found it very difficult trying to work out what I was looking, even though the guide booklet told me, I still couldn’t see. I have added them just out of interest.
All I could see in this one was a pair of legs and some feet.
This little church has lots of lovely detail, the Rood screen is 15th century and it stands in its original position under the Chancel Arch, which is a beautiful shape.
The 15th century pulpit and Rood screen could be the work as the same craftsman, as both are exquisitely carved. There could have been paintings on the pulpit, and the Rood screen. In 1887, beneath the floor of the pulpit, was discovered a thick piece of wood, with a painting of the Virgin and Child. This was dated about 1300 and may have been part of the screen. The painting was sold in 1886 and the money was used to buy some some seating for the Chancel. In 1964 the painting was given back to the church, but it was stolen along with other items, so we will never beable to see this wonderful painting, where it should be and not in someones private collection……where is has no right to be……give it back…….right, now I have had my say, we will continue.
There are a very old set of Commandment Boards and they date from when Queen Elizabeth 1 ordered that the Commandments should be hung in all Chancels. The Font has a plain octagonal bowl and is possible 14th century and stands on a square base. For a small country church, it was a joy to soak up the ancientness of this lovely building. Now on to the next one.
Most of the details come from the church booklet, which was full of wonderful information.