Monday, May 18, 2009

Snettisham church

click photo to enlarge
When I visit a church that I haven't been to before I frequently read its description in "Pevsner". The county-based volumes of The Buildings of England are usually known by their main author's name, and his pen-portraits of a town or village's parish church, which is invariably the first entry for each place, prepares one for what is to come.

However, when I visited Snettisham in Norfolk a couple of days ago I hadn't done my usual research, and was surprised by what I found. Like a number of village churches, St Mary's is in splendid isolation a couple of hundred yards from the settlement. This gives the visitor a wonderful view of the building, unencumbered by surrounding houses - that was the first unexpected, and pleasant, surprise. The church is very big, with rich architectural details on the exterior, particularly the magnificent 6-light west window, the unusual, vaulted, tripartite porch below, and the soaring spire connected to its tower by pinnacles with flying buttresses. They were the second surprise. The interior, considering the special nature of what was outside, was something of a disappointment - relatively spare, with a few gems (pulpit, lectern, sanctus bell, a couple of memorials), and mediocre glass, especially the 1969 window by Paul Jefferies that has the "cartoon" character that I've discussed recently. The biggest surprise, however, was the absence of a chancel. An east window had been fitted into a wall that filled the tower arch that formerly led into the missing eastward extension, and the high altar was below it: this absence has truncated what was a cruciform church into one that has a "T" shaped plan. Most odd, and most unfortunate. Apparently, in the late C16 Sir Wymond Carye had the chancel demolished. To add to the indignity, in 1915 a Zeppelin dropped bombs which further damaged the walls erected in its place.

Put all that together and you'll gather that to the avid church-visitor Snettisham is something of an oddity. In fact, it looks more like one of South Lincolnshire's churches than a Norfolk building, and Pevsner's description of it being "perhaps the most exciting C14...parish church in Norfolk", loses some of its force when you remember that the county isn't rich in work of that period. St Mary's does, however, have a powerful presence, and coming upon it for the first time, on its slight rise, amongst its green fields and swaying trees, I was momentarily reminded of Constable's painting of Salisbury Cathedral. Consequently, in addition to a few "architectural" shots, I took a few "landscape" images that placed the building off-centre, balanced by trees, with a verdant foreground.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 21mm (42mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On