The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross,


Parish & Community Building & History Other Churches in the Group


Bale Church


Bale Church stands to the east of a grove of 18 holm oaks planted The Bale Oak in the 19th century to replace the ancient Bale Oak, 36 feet round and several hundred years old when its decayed hollow trunk was taken down in 1860. If the tree or its precursors were ever held sacred in pre-Christian times what more natural than that the church should be built nearby.


Inside the church it is the oldest part, the chancel of c.1300 with its single-framed rafter roof, which gives the building its feeling of light andspace. Thisis largely due to the unusually largecusped lights of the east window. The two-light windows set in deep splays on the north side and theBale Church East endpiscina are also of c.1300. An odd feature of the chancel arch is that none of its decorative stonework is visible from the tower

The Nave

The nave, transept chapel and tower were either built or rebuilt sometime before 1400. The rood stair rises from this chapel, a reminder perhaps that roods were 15th. and not 14th. century innovations. The pulley block, by which the candle beam to light the rood was raised and lowered, high up at the east end of the arch-braced nave roof, must be a unique survival.

consecration cross, Bale

Around the walls of the newer building can still be seen elaborately foliated crosses recording 7 of the customary 12 marks made by the consecrating bishop. The fresco of St. Christopher, in its usual place opposite the south door, is decayed beyond recognition.

For the fine medieval glass fragments gathered from most of the windows into the south east nave window please see the page on Stained Glass.


The church was restored in 1862 by John Frederick Preedy, who has contributed the roof cladding, stalls, pews and pulpit. Preedy did a great deal of work in this area, including a number of stained glass windows in the next door parish of Gunthorpe which had been united with Bale. The chancel of Gunthorpe with its marble and alabaster decorations was also rebuilt by Preedy about this time, so we may assume that the rector Canon Sparke liked his work.

Several furnishings are worth special notice:

The Chest,

Ironbound of c.1500, is of a type known as a Danziger. The bar which formerly secured it by the rings now holds the tower door.


The Royal Arms

These have been modified more than once by overpainting. The initials CR indicate that Stuart arms were first painted c.1660 to celebrate the Restoration. The date was later altered to 1698 on the accession of William and Mary, and then sometime after 1714 the CR became GR and the Hanoverian quarterings and escutcheon were painted in the fourth quarter.Bale Font


The Font

The font can be dated c.1470 from the style of the blank tilting shield on the west face, shaped at the top as a lance rest. As well as four flower panels there are three other shields, showing: south, the cross of St. George, east, the symbols of the Passion (cross, crown of thorns, spear, reed and sponge, scourge and cup of vinegar) and north, the Trinity, from the centre of which peers a small face.


Towertower niche

The same window tracery can be seen on the 14th century towers here and at Sharrington and Brinton; at Bale & Brinton there are also similar image niches in the west faces of the towers. High up on the south west and north east corners of the nave see small squat carved stone heads. The other corners have flower corbels. It is interesting that footings have been found for an earlier south porch east of the present one, and for a vestry on the north side of the chancel.

In the tower there is a test board with verses from Psalm 43 painted in red on black in 1637. The marks of a former tower screen or gallery can be seen low down on the tower arch.

The Bells and their Inscriptions

Treble. (D) 4 ½ cwt. Charles Newman made mee 1710
2. (C) 5 ½ cwt. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, help us (c.1440)
3. (B) 6 cwt. John Brend made me 1647 Norwich
4. (A) 7 ½ cwt Gabriel sing sweetly in this company Brasyer of Norwich c. 1480
Tenor(G) 9 ½ cwt Recast by Ellas Brend 1658

Treble and 2.came in 1839 from St. Michael-at-Thorn, Norwich;
2. and 3. were recast 1902.
The last three appear in a 1552 inventory, but only as originally cast.


St. Botolph's Chapel

Until 1776 at the north east of the church there was a building formerly called St. Botolph's Chapel which received bequests in pre-Reformation Will bequests. This may indicate a connection between Bale and the saint whose 7th century monastery was founded at Iken near Aldeburgh in Suffolk. He was regarded as an major early pioneer of Benedictine monasticism in England and as a guardian of travellers and as an exorcist. The local Priory of Binham was a Benedictine foundation.

Known Rectors of BALE before union with GUNTHORPE

1303 Vincent de Norton
1323 Henry de Wodenorton
1339 Roger de Norton
1354 Edmund or Adam de Redgrave
1380 William Clarke
1392 Henry Sturdy
1393 John Austin
1411 John Gibbs
1420 Thomas Ludham
John Savage
1447 John Kentyng
ante 1458 Simon Sharrington
ante 1600 James Armestead
post 1600 John Charter
c. 1615 William Cochram
1638 Robert Chapman