Overshadowed by the neighbouring giant churches of the Glaven, how many of us residing here or visiting have stepped inside All Saints at Morston? I hadn’t but often curious as to why the part brick-built tower and knowing nothing about its interior at all, I set out to investigate one Saturday. Morston Church is refreshingly plain, calm and candle-lit (no electric here by choice) a typical rural church. The tower was struck by lightning in 1743. Why brick was used in repair remains uncertain but I rather like the 50p Guide’s fanciful notion that the ‘Second Coming’ was thought to be imminent so the villagers did what they could as fast as possible plus there was a handy small brickyard in the village. Apparently, two bells were sold off to pay for the work. Unique cobbled graves grace the somewhat sparse graveyard (click on this image to see at bottom right) most markers of wooden crosses long gone. A charming 15C font, 13C windows and inscribed tomb slabs lie within.
Each side of the chancel arch stands a painted wooden screen. Such screens, known as ‘Rood’ screens, served as a physical and symbolic barrier separating the chancel, the domain of the clergy, from the nave and the lay people. Previously, churches had hung heavy drapes, altar curtains, which could be closed at certain parts of the liturgy, mystery surrounding ‘the bread made flesh’, concealment and revelation much part of Medieval Mass. But following a new fashion led by Constantinople’s great Hagia Sophia in the 6C, churches began to surround their alters with ‘rood’ screens comprising of wooden waist-high dado panels, usually decorated with images of the saints, with delicate wooden fretwork tracery above, culminating in a great crucifix complete with figures, (the rood) high above the chancel usually with an image behind; ‘The Last Judgement’ or a depiection of ‘doom’. During the Reformation, the roods (the crosses and the figures) came tumbling down. Not one remains intact in England but some painted dado’s still survive.
So, apart from its age, it is remarkable that this piece of Medieval art survived the iconoclasm. The painted panels were a gift from an ex bishop, then former rector of Morston, Rev. Florence Woolley, in 1480. Following artistic convention, John, Matthew, Luke and Mark are depicted (in the image above) at left with four Latin doctors, canonised saints; Gregory, Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine, at right. These eight figures represent the fundamental biblical and Ecclesiastical basis of the Catholic church. The ‘spandrels’ above each image have suffered damage, probably at the hands of the Reformists and Gregory and Jerome’s papal hats have been scratched out.
Simon Knott, editor of the excellent Norfolk Churches site states that ‘All Saints is absolutely fascinating and deserves to be better known’. Got an I-Phone? Read his I-pad edition as you explore and pick up the 50p pamphlet Guide. We can so easily become ambivalent to our history, spoilt as we are with buildings and objects of great age all around. Morston Church is an architectural container storing histories of past human endeavour, a museum and an art gallery. Easily fitted into a day including a seal boat trip from Morston Quay and lunchtime local mussels at The Anchor Pub, I thoroughly recommend a visit.