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 Actes and Monuments Online website

The Loddon Lollard woodcuts are here


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.

Loddon Lollards

The sight of a respectable middle class town’s woman stripped to her underwear, bare footed and head uncovered,  humiliated and from time to time flogged as she processed around church and market place was meant to be an example to the population.  It was a common sight in Loddon during the years 1428-1430!

Certain town’s men and women and, on market days, others from the surrounding villages, were forced to undertake these rituals of public penance:  the price of their heresy.   

However much like punishment it appeared, penance is what the Church called it!  It was harsh but preferable  to  being burnt at the stake!   The penitents, who had all appeared before William Alnwick, Bishop of Norwich were Lollards whose beliefs were more radical than those of John Wycliffe and the earlier Lollards!  They were disciples of Hugh Pye and William White preachers who had their base in Loddon.

The heresy of which they were accused, and freely admitted,  had  little or no respect for the authority of ordained ministers,  nor for the sacraments of the Church.  To the 21st Century mind Bishop William’s decisions to burn Hugh Pye and William White at the stake (in Lollards’ Pit in Norwich) and to impose harsh punishment/penance on their disciples,  is  a clear admission of the weakness of his arguments! 

Burning heretics, in practice those who opposed church rulers,  had begun long before Pye and White were executed and continued for years after.  Catholics burned Protestants and Protestants, Catholics and both burned witches!  I  disagree with the Loddon Lollards  about the value of ordained ministry and the sacraments, but still revere them as martyrs for the free speech and the freedoms we enjoy today.

Of course, the argument about orders and sacraments has not gone away!  It is current still, but after the trials of 1428-1430 it went underground, where it already enjoyed a long history.  Bare footed friars, such as those who supported John Wycliffe (alongside John of Gaunt and Henry Percy)  when he was called to appear before the Bishop of London in 1377, had long challenged the opulence of prince bishops by their radical poverty.  Mother Julian, writing in Norwich a generation earlier, stressed the courtesy of Christ. This was an image at odds with that presented by Henry Despencer,  the Fighting Bishop of Norwich, whose army routed the peasants army at the Battle of North Walsham in 1381. None of this went unnoticed .

The Despenser Retable By J An – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 0

In the St.Luke’s Chapel of Norwich Cathedral there is a rare survival from the pre-Reformation Church,  an altar piece known as  Despencer Retable.  Said to be commissioned to celebrate Henry Despenser’s North Walsham victory, it shows Christ’s public humiliation and flogging, dozy soldiers and military types join in the humiliation and then totally miss the Resurrection!   No prizes for guessing where the artist’s sympathy lay.

 News of John Ball’s sermon at Blackheath and his subsequent death would had travelled up the east coast from London and all the way up the Norwich river!  John Ball had been in Norwich during the time of Black Death.   People knew about him.

Like Pye and White,  John Ball was  labelled and then executed as a Lollard. The same fate awaited the leaders of the Norfolk uprising.  As Langley Abbey was among those places  attacked by the mob, it would have included folk Lodden in its ranks.   Unlike the Lollards of 1428-1430 these Lollards had little interested in religion. They simply wanted to burn the legal documents that proved they were serfs and  tied to the land. 

John Ball at Blackheath. 1470 manuscript of Jean Froissart‘s Chronicles in the British Library.

In spite of his death, or perhaps because of it, John Ball’s sermon lives on and would have been known by those who took part in the Norfolk uprising and painted the Despenser Retable.  The coastal trade took ships and sailors up and down the east coast and its rivers and by those who painted the Despenser Retable !   John Ball’s words still echo down the ages and retain the the power to challenge and  inspire   – “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman.”  

William Morris’s Dream of John Ball illustrated by Edward Burns-Jones



Art Trail?

There are plenty of opportunities to develop the NSW as an Art Trail

Ancient and Modern


Churches in the Landscape are themselves a form of art and they contain works of art too!  Modern works , such as John Dashwood’s gritty Stations of the Cross in Great Yarmouth Minster

or Norwich Cathedral’s recent acquisition, Brian Whelan’s Passion of Edith Cavell




There are also brilliant new stained glass windows at Reedham


Among the ancient works of art Norwich Cathedral is the  treasure chest