12th March Feast of Gregory the Great

There are two churches dedicated to Gregory the Great on the Norfolk Saints’ Way – at Heckingham, now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust; and at Norwich, in the care of Norwich Historic Churches Conservation Trust. Both are early foundations.

St.Gregory, Heckingham

“Our Gregory!” our Anglo-Saxon forebears called him. He was a great hero to the Ven. Bede. He begins Book II of his Ecclesiastical History England with

At this time, that is, in the year of our Lord 605,4 the blessed Pope Gregory, after having most gloriously governed the Roman Apostolic see thirteen years, six months, and ten days, died, and was translated to an eternal abode in the kingdom of Heaven. Of whom, seeing that by his zeal he converted our nation, the English, from the power of Satan to the faith of Christ, it behoves us to discourse more at large in our Ecclesiastical History, for we may rightly, nay, we must, call him our apostle; because, as soon as he began to wield the pontifical power over all the world, and was placed over the Churches long before converted to the true faith, he made our nation, till then enslaved to idols, the Church of Christ, so that concerning him we may use those words of the Apostle; “if he be not an apostle to others, yet doubtless he is to us; for the seal of his apostleship are we in the Lord.

Bede H.E. Book II Chapter 1
From Antiphonary of Hartker of the monastery of Saint Gall

Best known joke? Non Angli sed Angeli

It is said that one day, when some merchants had lately arrived at Rome, many things were exposed for sale in the market place, and much people resorted thither to buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and saw among other wares some boys put up for sale, of fair complexion, with pleasing countenances, and very beautiful hair. When he beheld them, he asked, it is said, from what region or country they were brought? and was told, from the island of Britain, and that the inhabitants were like that in appearance. He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism, and was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, “Alas! what pity,” said he, “that the author of darkness should own men of such fair countenances; and that with such grace of outward form, their minds should be void of inward grace.” He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation? and was answered, that they were called Angles. “Right,” said he, “for they have an angelic face, and it is meet that such should be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven. What is the name of the province from which they are brought?” It was replied, that the natives of that province were called Deiri. “Truly are they De ira,” said he, “saved from wrath, and called to the mercy of Christ. How is the king of that province [pg 083]called?” They told him his name was Aelli;0 and he, playing upon the name, said, “Allelujah, the praise of God the Creator must be sung in those parts.”


Bede H.E. Book II Chapter 1

A Closer Look at the Cathedral Beasts

Norwich Cathedral North Transept

The three beasts above the Bishop’s Entrance together with the triangular headed arches and plain unadorned Romanesque doorway beneath have a distinct Anglo Saxon feel to them. As does the image of St.Felix that was fixed above the door on the outside . Are they wyms or dragons? At first sight the beast’s heads look quite benign. A closer look tells a different story.

The central beast looks almost perky!
Grendel’s Dam? That’s a little face looking out of the mouth!
The dragon?
If so, this this fellow will be Grendel.

International Women’s Day on the NSW

Celebrating all the inspirational women saints associated with the Norfolk Saints Way. In date order:

St. Bathilde (died 658 CE)  – An East Anglian Slave who became a queen , the first person  to introduce anti-slavery laws. Her seal matrix was found across the River Yare at Postwick.

Discover Bathilde’s story

Mother Julian of Norwich (Died 1416)  – Anchorite, Theologian, the first woman to write a book in English.

Discover more about Mother Julian

Edith Cavell – ( Died 1915).  Pioneer Nurse Educator

Discover more about Edith Cavell

St. Felix – Sources


Earpwald, not long after he had embraced the Christian faith, was slain by one Ricbert, a pagan; and from that time the province was in error for three years, till Sigbert succeeded to the kingdom, brother to the same Earpwald, a most Christian and learned man, who was banished, and went to live in Gaul during his brother’s life, and was there initiated into the mysteries of the faith, whereof he made it his business to cause all his province to partake as soon as he came to the throne. His exertions were nobly promoted by Bishop Felix, who, coming to Honorius, the archbishop, from the parts of Burgundy, where he had been born and ordained, and having told him what he desired, was sent by him to preach the Word of life to the aforesaid nation of the Angles. Nor were his good wishes in vain; for the pious labourer in the spiritual field reaped therein a great harvest of believers, delivering all that province (according to the inner signification of his name) from long iniquity and unhappiness, and bringing it to the faith and works of righteousness, and the gifts of everlasting happiness. He had the see of his bishopric appointed him in the city Dommoc, and having presided over the same province with pontifical authority seventeen years, he ended his days there in peace.
Bede;History of the English Church Chapter Book 2 Chapter 15
From Project Gutenberg

At this time, the kingdom of the East Angles, after the death of Earpwald, the successor of Redwald, was [pg 172]governed by his brother Sigbert, a good and religious man, who some time before had been baptized in Gaul, whilst he lived in banishment, a fugitive from the enmity of Redwald. When he returned home, as soon as he ascended the throne, being desirous to imitate the good institutions which he had seen in Gaul, he founded a school wherein boys should be taught letters, and was assisted therein by Bishop Felix, who came to him from Kent, and who furnished them with masters and teachers after the manner of the people of Kent

Bede;History of the English Church Chapter Book 3 Chapter 18


From Project Gutenberg



 “In the wall of Loddon church a certain inscription was found. Felix Bishop and Werned Abbot and Luthing Aethling. He maden the kirke at Lodne (Loddon) and the Kirke at Redeham (Reedham) and the halige Kirke at Babingley.” 

St. Edmudsbury’s, Liber Albus

St. Felix and Norwich Cathedral

When Herbert de Losinga became the first Bishop of Norwich and began building his new cathedral, he did so with an eye to history.  Keen to demonstrate his succession in line from the first Bishop of East Anglia,  he had a statue of St. Felix placed above the Bishop’s Entrance.

Herbert, a Norman, who had been prior of the Abbey of Fecamp,  already had some experience of the English Church.  William Rufus brought him to England to be Abbot of Ramsey Abbey in Huntingdonshire and to be a servant of the crown.

Nothing remains of  the once mighty abbey.  In its day, it was a great collector of relics; sadly,  in that regard, Ramsey was overshadowed by other great abbeys of eastern England.  Peterborough had the arm of St. Oswold;  Ely, a whole phalanx of East Anglia’s sainted royal ladies;  Crowland had the body of St.Guthlac;  and St. Edmundsbury , had Edmund and several other male East Anglian royal saints.  Ramsey could only rally St. Ivo,  whose body was miraculously discovered,  miles away from Cornwall, in the Fenland town that now bears his name!   They also had the relics of St.Felix, whose body the monks had retrieved  from the ruins of the Viking ravaged monastery of Soham.

Herbert was already well acquainted with St.Felix before he came to Norfolk.

It has been suggested that the Norwich statue is a copy of an original piece from St. Felix’s shrine. It certainly looks the part, but nothing remains of the abbey, save for the gatehouse,  and we are left with no clues.  Relief sculptures from the minster at Breedon on the Hill, have survived to find a place in the church that replaced it.  They have  similar Roman arches framing their saints.

 Saints, framed by arches are also a common place in Anglo Saxon illuminated manuscripts.  Here is a full page sketch from the 10th Century,  “Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 389: Lives of the Hermits Paul and Guthlac”.

In many ways, the Burgundian, St. Felx, who had brought the Gospel over the sea to England, made a great patron for, the Norman, Herbert.  He too had come over the sea to be a bishop. He too had been an adviser to the king.  Continuing the theme of good things from abroad, the fine Caen stone for Herbert’s new cathedral also came from  across the sea .

As if to emphasise his links to East Anglia’s past, the Bishop’s Entrance in the North Transept of the cathedral was deliberately built in an old fashioned Saxon style, with triangular headed arches,  three beastly heads  (reminiscent of the beasts at Deerhurst)  jutting into the building; and a doorway with a plain, undecorated arch.

 

The statue of Felix, in the same Saxon style,  was set on the outside of the cathedral above the door through which every future  bishop would come and go.

It was only in the 20th Century that the statue was brought inside to protect it from the elements.  Today it is in the Ambulatory.

 

 

One can see a similar arrangement,  contemporary with the cathedral, in situ, at the church of St.Mary, Haddiscoe.

 

 

As I read the iconography, it seems to say, “You cross this threshold,  into this holy place, through the work/generosity/ kindness/ministry of the one whose image is above.”  Only, in the case of Haddiscoe,  it is not  clear who the person might be.  It is certainly not the church’s patron saint,  St. Mary!  Christ in majesty, perhaps? A bishop ?

 

Some have suggested, St. Peter, others Gregory the Great, but it might, equally, be  St Felix.

 

Like the North Transept of  Norwich Cathedral, Haddiscoe church has a mix of Norman and Saxon architecture.  Its round tower is a typical Saxon tower,  with triangular headed openings; but it is not, necessarily, older than the Norman doorway.  At Haddiscoe they may have simply got one of  them new fangled Norman masons to do their swanky door!  And there are a lot of swanky Norman doors in neighbouring parishes.

 

Applying a similar interpretation to the figure of St.Felix above the Bishop’s Entrance,  it says,  “You come into this cathedral church, through the mission to the East Anglians, started by St. Felix in the 7th Century.”  To every subsequent bishop the  sub-text reads  ” I , Herbert, built this cathedral, placed this statue above the door; and, as Bishop of Norwich, you follow in my footsteps!

 

Actes and Monuments

The restored 2nd edition of Foxe’s Actes and Monuments” – The Book of Martyrs – is now back, in pride of place, in Norwich Cathedral’s Historic Library.

This woodcut depicts Thomas Bilney,  sticking his finger in the candle flame on the night before he was burned at the stake , at Lollard’s Pit on 19th August 1531.

Find out more at the amazing www.johnfoxe.org Actes and Monuments Online website

The Loddon Lollard woodcuts are here

 

A Fursey-Tide Pilgrimage

I’d left it until the day after the Feast of St.Fursey, planning to walk from Great Yarmouth. Then, I wimped out! There was snow in the air and the Queens Head was not serving food at lunchtime. When I arrived in the afternoon the weather had moderated but it was still cold enough to imagine the scene recorded by the Ven.Bede. Long before Dante’s other wordly journey had resulted in his famous Inferno, St. Fursey had visions of the hereafter and the Fires of Hell that would burn up Evil.


An ancient brother of our monastery is still living, who is wont to declare that a very sincere and religious man told him, that he had seen Fursey himself in the province of the East Angles, and heard those visions from his mouth; adding, that though it was in most sharp winter weather, and a hard frost, and the man was sitting in a thin garment when he related it, yet he sweated as if it had been in the greatest heat of summer, either through excessive fear, or spiritual consolation. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 3.19)

It was the visions led Fursey to become an evangelist. Yes, he would warn his hearers of the fires of hell, his repeated mantras were :-


The saints shall advance from one virtue to another

and

The God of gods shall be seen in Sion

Fursey the Visionary

St.Fursey by Nigel Canham

From Book 3. Chapter 6 of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation
An ancient brother of our monastery is still living, who is wont to declare that a very sincere and religious man told him, that he had seen Fursey himself in the province of the East Angles, and heard those visions from his mouth; adding, that though it was in most sharp winter weather, and a hard frost, and the man was sitting in a thin garment when he related it, yet he sweated as if it had been in the greatest heat of summer, either through excessive fear, or spiritual consolation.

Feast of St.Fursey 16th January

East Anglian Pilgrimage Network

250px-saintfursey

The saint,  who is associated with Burgh Castle,  was a 7th C evangelist and hermit and visionary in the Kingdom of East Anglia, who travelled on to France.
You can read  Dr. Nick Groves translation of his Vita here .
Find more info at Fursey Pilgrims here
And bless yourself with his lorica prayer as you journey on:

The arms of God be around my shoulders
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,
The conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,
The work of God’s church in my hands,
The service of God and the neighbour in my feet,
A home for God in my heart,
And to God, the Father of all,
my…

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St. Nicholas, Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth is the most easterly point on the Norfolk Saints Way. The place where the Angles and Wherryman’s Ways meet.

The Minster Church can be seen from afar.

St. Nicholas presides over the doorway. It is a warm place with open doors. 

A church – this version replaces one destroyed by bombs in 1942 – has been on this site since a cell of Norwich Priory was established here in the year 1101.  Since when it has been at the heart of this port/town/seaside place that grew up around it.

At the far end of the Acle Straight to modern travellers Great Yarmouth  might seem to be the end of the world but for most of its history it has been Norfolk’s doorway to the world!   In 1154 the Islamic geographer Al-Idrisi was acquainted with England and East Anglia.  He writes it “is an island resembling the head of an ostrich, and contains flourishing cities, lofty mountains, flowing rivers, and level ground. There is abundant fertility in it. Its inhabitants are hardy, resolute, and prudent. The winter there is of long duration… ” And describes Great Yarmouth “Gernemutha is a handsome town beside the sea… From the town of Gernemutha to the town of Norwicca [Norwich] is ninety miles.” (Dr.Caitlin R Green).

Until the railway came to Great Yarmouth in 1844,  the easiest way to get to London from Norfolk was by passenger ferry from Great Yarmouth. Great Yarmouth and Norwich were connected by a passenger ferry too.  In recent memory Thames Barges and other coastal vessels were regular visitors to Great Yarmouth and Norwich beyond.

A graffito on a pillar in Norwich Cathedral – a wife or a merchant’s prayer for ship overdue perhaps – depicts a 16th Century cargo ship. 

St.Nicholas is patron saint of sailors and has had a ministry to seamen of all nations many of whom are buried in the churchyard. He is also patron of children. In the stories told about him he rescued 3 poor lads from a nasty situation and three poor young women from a life of prostitution.  Great Yarmouth’s sandy beaches cannot be bettered, but in a,  sometimes gritty,  port/town/ seaside place  like Great Yarmouth , there are similar challenges to be faced.