At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Ilketshall St Andrew

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Ilketshall St Andrew

Ilketshall St Andrew Ilketshall St Andrew Ilketshall St Andrew
Ilketshall St Andrew Ilketshall St Andrew Ilketshall St Andrew: porch St Andrew

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    St Andrew is one of the Saints, a group of twelve remote, scattered and traditionally lawless parishes not far from the Norfolk border. There is a sense in which St Andrew is in the Saints, but not of them: it looks away from the others to north and east for the other parishes in its shared benefice. There is no real village here, but that is par for the course with the Saints of course: only three of them have a proper village in their parish. St Andrew has more houses than most, but they are scattered around commons, separated by winding hedged lanes. All in all, the parish is rambling and incoherent, and somewhat difficult to grasp.

This grand round-towered church sits at a bend in the road with the former rectory for company. As is common in this part of East Anglia, the tower has an octagonal bell stage, and although some round towers were built from scratch in the 13th and 14th centuries, it is likely that this top was built onto a Norman tower, probably contemporarily with the body of the nave, which despite the acquisition of later Perpendicular windows is essentially a long Norman church. The chancel was probably added at the time the tower was topped off. A good modern statue of St Andrew gazes out from the niche on the porch, which was built right on the eve of the Anglican Reformation. The graveyard he looks out on is a delight: there has been almost no clearance of the older gravestones, and it must be a genealogist's dream.

In December 2001, workmen undertaking a repair to the south wall uncovered a remarkable scheme of wall paintings. They bear a similarity to the 14th century wall paintings at nearby North Cove, but what makes them unusual is the main subject, the depiction of a wheel of fortune. It is the only known example in East Anglia, although it is possible that the painting on the south wall at Barton Bendish St Mary in Norfolk may show something similar. The wheel of fortune is a variation on the usual Judgement scene, with a seated figure at the top, and two other figures apparently tied to the wheel, one rising and the other falling. The image of a wheel of fortune was a potent one in late medieval times. It was derived from a work called the Consolation of Philosophy, by the 6th Century Roman philosopher Boethius. By the 13th and 14th centuries, this book was the most widely copied work of secular literature in Europe, central to a university education and formation for the Priesthood. As such, it informed and infused English medieval Christianity, particulary at the time of the Black Death and afterwards.

Famously, Boethius has Fortune tell us that inconstancy is my very essence; it is the game I never cease to play as I turn my wheel in its ever changing circle, filled with joy as I bring the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top. Yes, rise up on my wheel if you like, but don't count it an injury when by the same token you begin to fall, as the rules of the game will require. This fatalism is also seen expressed in such more common wall painting scenes as the Three Living and the Three Dead, where the noblemen out hunting are reminded by corpses in various states of decay that as you are, so once was I, as I am so you must be, therefore prepare to follow me. The suggestion is that it is of no use to store up earthly treasures, but the wheel is also intended to remind the viewer of the temporality and uncertainty of these things, and that it is far better to concentrate the mind on higher thoughts.

wheel of fortune
wheel of fortune coffins wheel of fortune: detail wheel of fortune: detail the dead arise 
angel and queen angel Hail Holy Queen Romanesque hoodie

In the 15th century, there was a move away from classical mysticism towards an enforcement of the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church, mainly because of the way in which the increasing wealth of a rising middle class was paying for reminders of the significance of praying for the dead at that time of pestilence and disease. These wall paintings were probably covered up during the 15th century, a century or so before the protestant iconoclasts came along. Around the wheel are other figures, including the dead rising from their graves, and east of the window are a queen and an angel, probably part of a larger scene. The pitting in the figure of the queen is almost certainly not iconoclasm, but simply the way that the surface has been prepared for a covering of plaster. A curiosity on the wall opposite is an architectural drawing of a Romanesque building, which may well predate the scenes on the south wall.

The wall paintings are of such significance that the story of their discovery reached a national audience. But Ilketshall St Andrew wasn't finished with extraordinary events, because a year or so later the church was struck by lightning, not once but twice. It took until 2006 for the building to be reopened, and what a transformation! You step into a clean, bright, long church, which is obviously well-loved and cared for. At the west end of the south side is a 16th century bench back carved with cherubs and the large initials JE. behind it, the 15th century font looks most imposing on its pedestal.There is a pleasing feeling of a rustic 19th century restoration, as if the blacksmith and the plough boy would still be thoroughly at home here. The great royal arms of Charles II were thoroughly repaired and are an outstanding example of the confident carved work of the Restoration period.


Simon Knott, July 2016

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You can also read a general introduction to the churches of the Saints.

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

font looking east bench back
looking west Stuart Royal Arms font
chancel looking west madonna and child tomb canopy Norman

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