The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross,
|Parish & Community||Building & History||Other Churches in the Group|
St Margaret's Church, Saxlingham
Tour of the Church
It is probable that a church stood on the site of St. Margaret's, Saxlingham, in Saxon times, for the Domesday Book (1086) speaks of William Beaufoe, Bishop of Thetford, holding at "Saxlingaham" a manor comprising one church with twelve acres. This early church would almost certainly have been of the small nave and sanctuary type usual at that period.
The Old Rectory, the south wing of which was added early in the nineteenth century, stands immediately to the west of the church.
Towards the end of the last century, the church structure had deteriorated to such an extent that in 1896 architects reported "we are unable to advise attempting to restore the church which is so out of repair that it would be necessary to rebuild". Notwithstanding this, Sir Alfred Jodrell, of Bayfield Hall, an outstanding example of the churchmanship and restoring zeal of the Victorians, arranged for a complete restoration of the church in 1898. The building was re-roofed with a braced oak roof, the former box pews were removed and new oak pews installed, the floor was relaid with Staffordshire tiles, the chancel floor was raised and a new oak lectern and pulpit provided. Extensive general repair works were also carried out. At a special vestry meeting held in the rectory on 14th October, 1898, "it was proposed and received with acclaim that a letter be sent in the name of all the parishioners to Sir Alfred Jodrell to thank him for his piety and generosity in restoring so beautifully and reverently the ancient Parish Church".
The Church Building — The church is a cruciform building of flint and freestone, consisting of a square western tower, south porch, nave, north and south transepts and chancel. The windows contain varied and unusual tracery.
The Tower — This contains one bell which bears the inscription "Thomas Hurrell and John Margason Church Warden 1812". It replaced three cracked bells dating from the reign of Edward VIth and was purchased with the proceeds of their sale.
The Nave — The stone font has an octagonal bowl with floral decoration and an oak and wrought iron cover. It is thought to be partly of fifteenth century origin and, if so, has been recut.
There is a list of rectors from 1286 on the north wall (see below).
On the north and south walls are memorial tablets to past rectors and members of their families. The tablet in memory of Mary Lane, William Warner and Joseph Lane has a delightful putto, a winged cherub, at its base. The handsome memorial to the Rev. Sheldon Jodrell, who died in 1855, after serving as rector for forty years, has coloured shields incorporating the arms of Jodrell, Rolles, Sheldon, Whetenhall and Hase.
In the nave can be seen the fine oak lectern and oak pulpit presented by Sir Alfred Jodrell on the restoration of the church.
The wrought iron chandelier was presented in 1972 by Mr. Walter Clarke, a parishioner, in memory of his wife, Gladys, and replaced a brass chandelier which had become too dilapidated to be of service.
The Transepts — The north transept, in which there were formerly a stone side altar and a piscina, is now the vestry.
In a niche on the respond of the north transept, under a fragment of a perpendicular canopy from some monument and kneeling on a tasselled cushion, can be seen the alabaster figure of an Elizabethan woman, Lady Mirabel Heydon. On her dress has been cut in seventeenth or eighteenth century lettering the inscription "MIR. HEY." Also, in the south transept, is a small alabaster Bible with the inscription "I am sure that my Redeemer liveth and that I shall rise out of the earthe in the last day and shall be covered again with my skinne and see God in my flesh, yea I myself shall behold Him not with other but with these same eyes". This pre-Authorised Version text (Job.19:25-27) is based on an earlier Bible translation, either the Coverdale Version, Matthew's Bible or the Great Bible, or on a contemporary prayer book text.
This figure and Bible are now all that remain of what must have been one of the most extraordinary monuments ever erected in an English church. It was built by Sir Christopher Heydon, grandson of the Sir Christopher already mentioned and a distinguished scholar and a student of and writer on astrology, in memory of Lady Mirabel, his first wife, who died at Sharrington on 15th July, 1593, having borne him eight children, four boys and four girls. According to Blomefield, the eminent Norfolk historian, writing about 1730, Lady Mirabel was 22 years 6 months old at her death. In Blomefield's picturesque words, Sir Christopher "resided as much at Saxlingham as at Baconsthorp, and in the chancel of Saxlingham, buried his first lady Mirabel, daughter and coheiress of Sir Thomas Rivet, Knt. merchant of London, over whom he erected a most curious and sumptuous monument, which takes up almost the whole area, inclosed with iron rails, there being just space enough left to go round the monument, which is raised in form of an Egyptian pyramid, of marble and stone, supported by pillars, and reaching almost to the top of the chancel, having an urn on the summit; in the arch under the pyramid, and which supports it, is the effigies of a lady kneeling on a cushion, with a desk before her, on which lies a Bible opened with these words 'I am sure that my Redeemer liveth, &c'. Over her head, an oval stone projects, so curiously polished, as to reflect her effigies, as from a looking-glass; and at each corner are two children, four boys and four girls, on their knees; there are four steps to ascend to the effigies of the lady; at each corner of the second step, stands a Dorick pillar; on the top of that which stands south-west, is the statue of a woman veiled, her left foot treading on a tortoise, with a dog by her right foot; on the north-west pillar, a swan charged with stars or estoils (representing in this hieroglyphical manner, the modesty, prudence, fidelity and candour of Sir Christopher's lady); on the north-east, a centaur in a maze, or labyrinth; and on the south-east pillar, a man in armour kneeling on a cushion."
The pyramid was ornamented with many hieroglyphic symbols, inscriptions and coats of arms; e.g., on the east face, Hebrew characters, a child blowing bubbles, torches, the hands and legs of a man and a Latin inscription relating to Lady Mirabel, and, on the north face, hands conjoined, a hare, a trumpet and vine, a cornucopia and a further Latin inscription recording Lady Mirabel's age when she died and the date of her death. Tom Martin's record of the latter inscription differs from that of Blomefield and, if correct, would indicate that Lady Mirabel was thirty-two years old when she died. The other faces of the pyramid were similarly inscribed to extol the qualities of Lady Mirabel.
It is said that Sir Christopher published a treatise explaining the hieroglyphic symbols on the monument.
In 1789 a faculty was obtained for the removal of this unique monument on the grounds that it was "dilapidated and dangerous".
In addition to the alabaster Bible from the Heydon monument there is built into the east wall of the south transept a most curious corbel representing the head, of a bearded man. Also in the south transept are what appear to have been three piscinae, of which the canopy of one is original. Tom Martin said he saw three "holy water stones here" and restorers may have respected and retained their original position near side altars they served.
The Jevington organ in the south transept is considered to be a fine example of its kind. It was originally in St. Barnabas Church, Kentish Town, which became redundant and was taken over by the Greek Orthodox Church, in which singing is unaccompanied. The organ was offered to any church prepared to pay for the cost of its dismantling and transportation. The then Rector of Letheringsett, the Rev. Gordon Paget, who was an enthusiastic organist, dedicated to securing the installation of a good organ in every church in the deanery, drew this offer to the attention of the Rev. Charles Scott Little, then Priest-in-Charge at St. Margaret's. It was resolved that the organ should be brought to Saxlingham Church and Messrs. W. & A. Boggis transported and renovated the instrument which was finally installed in 1968.
The Chancel — At the entrance is an oak Litany desk dedicated to the memory of Arthur Austin Blair, Rector from 1922 to 1931.
High on the wall on each side of the chancel are three carved and painted figures of angels, the first bearing a decorated shield, the second in an attitude of prayer and the third with hands crossed upon the breast.
The richly coloured stained glass east window was dedicated on 13th August, 1932, and was the work of James Powell & Sons (Whitefriars) Ltd. of London. It has five lights, the wording of the tracery above being: "Behold a sower went forth to sow". The three centre lights depict Christ speaking to the people from a fishing boat, the inscription being "He spake many things unto them in parables" , and below is the wording "To God's great glory and to the memory of T.B. Wood". The subject of the left-hand light is that of Christ as a sower, the medallion above being inscribed, "I am the true Vine", and the right-hand light depicts Christ as a reaper, the medallion being inscribed "I am the Bread of Life".
Church Plate — This consists of an ancient chalice and paten. On the chalice, which was made in Norwich, is the inscription "THIS IS FOR THE TOUN OF SASLYNGAM." Also engraved is the date letter C —1567. The saucer shaped paten is not marked but is probably the same date as the chalice. There is also a pewter plate made in London. (Note —the church plate is retained in safe custody and is not available for inspection at the church.)
Church Records — These date from 1558.
Guilds — There were at one time guilds of St. Margaret and St. John the Baptist in the church.
Rectors of St Margaret's