Thursday, 23 September 2021

Saints And Angels

On our return from Happisburgh, around which we've lingered for the last three posts, we passed close to the village of Barton Turf. The "turf" part of the name comes presumably from the digging of peat, or turf, nearby. The Norfolk Broads, those lakes and waterways famous for both boating holidays and wildlife, owe their existence to centuries of exploitation of peat.

You don't even have to venture as far as the village to see its imposing church, for it stands all alone, surrounded by fields, a mile or so away from its parishioners. It contains a great treasure within, but is nevertheless open every day.

The church had that afternoon received a group of visitors, and the helpers from the village were having tea as we entered, but they knew exactly what we'd come to see and insisted that we came in.

This is the Chancel and it shows the way in which our churches have developed over the centuries; little additions have been made in different styles over the ages but the past was always held in gentle affection and room has generally been made for items from past eras. Rarely has there been a desire for a fresh start and the deliberate destruction of history.

So things like this memorial, with its weeping cherub and broken pillar, which may not be exactly to modern taste, is nevertheless accommodated alongside features that are either more ancient and more recent. Which brings us to the Chancel Screen....

The exception to the peaceful evolution of our village churches took place with the rise of Puritanism. Wall paintings were whitewashed over, stained glass was smashed, statues were beheaded, and faces were scratched out on paintings. The level of destruction varied across the country and in this isolated corner of Norfolk a few priceless painted screens escaped relatively unscathed.

Represented here are (left to right): St Apollonia, St Sitha; then four orders of angels - Powers, Virtues, Dominions and Seraphims. You'll notice that the two panels to the right have had their faces scratched out, but that appears to be the only damage which has been inflicted. All these works of art date from around 1450 AD.

Then on the other side of the central opening are five further orders of angels Cherubim, Principalities, Thrones, Archangels and Angels; then lastly St Barbara. The three female Saints, Apollonia, Sitha and Barbara all were the subjects of cults during the Middle Ages. The Orders of Angels are largely forgotten today - there is no mention of them in The Bible but were much discussed by scholars of the day.

I've included links for anyone who wants to learn more about the subject, but for now lets just enjoy the artistry speaking to us from over the intervening five hundred years :

Angels and St Barbara



St Apollonia

Fearsome beast at the feet of Powers


There are also four more rather more crudely executed panels....

Represented here are: King Henry VI, St Edmund, Edward The Confessor and St Olaf. All four were also the subjects of cults at the time.

It's interesting to consider, as we leave the church, that such beauty was probably funded by the digging of turf in the neighbouring Barton Broad - grubby and hard-working peasants giving rise to shining golden angels.

Take care.



  1. Gee, John, I was quite certain that you were speaking of me when I read the title to your post! Devils and Demons would be more appropriate says my ever-loving wife!

  2. Old churches are so beautiful. I would have liked to see this one when it was new.

  3. What a beautiful old church. The paintings are really beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy your day, hugs, Edna B.

  4. Another old church showing its beauty and treasures. Enjoyed the story behind the panels. Thanks for sharing, John.

  5. The screen paintings are so beautiful! Thanks for showing them.

  6. Exquisite! And painful to think about all the beauty that was destroyed.

  7. That is a beautiful church. And full of memory.

  8. Hi John - definitely a place for me to visit whenever I get up to that part of the world again. Extraordinary art works ... and so wonderful we have them to study and look at today. Fantastic - thank you - cheers Hilary

  9. I am so glad they are open and that you can show us the inside. Just so much to see. Even just looking at your photos, it is hard to take it all in.

  10. La torre es asomgbrosa y el interior de la iglesia tiene mucho que ver.

    Me imagino que habrá otras iglesias más cerca y ya dentro de la población.

    Feliz otoño.

  11. John, how fortunate that this church was not only open, but that it houses such treasures. The beauty in old churches is timeless and I also enjoyed reading about the history.

  12. Those panels look so well cared for. Incredible detail and colors. Lucky for you you could get in and share photos with us who will never get to be there in person.

  13. Amazing how good the panels still look after all this time. Thanks for the link to Apollonia, and Sitha. I'd never heard of them. I'm glad the dentists have a patron saint. I'd never thought of "thrones" as a celestial being. Interesting the idea of hierarchy in heaven but the Bible gives us so little to go on in that regard.


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