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East Anglian angels from the realms of glory

PUBLISHED: 10:12 23 December 2017

An angel at Huntingfield church, painted by vicar's wife Mildred Holland in the mid 1800s. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

An angel at Huntingfield church, painted by vicar's wife Mildred Holland in the mid 1800s. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

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Angels soar through our churches, feathered wings outspread in flight, golden haloes and robes glowing. As Christmas angels bring their tidings of great joy we celebrate some of East Anglia’s heavenly angels.

Barton Turf Church's rood screens are one of examples of the type in a new book, Norfolk Rood Screens, which has been published by Paul Hurst and Rev Jeremy Haselock.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYBarton Turf Church's rood screens are one of examples of the type in a new book, Norfolk Rood Screens, which has been published by Paul Hurst and Rev Jeremy Haselock. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

As the ancient words of the Christmas story are read and said and sung, the angels are all around us.

One of the wonders of Norfolk is the angel roof at the parish church in South Creake, near Fakenham. Six hundred years ago villagers celebrated victory at Agincourt by sending angels flying across the roof of their church and the carvings still glow in golds, reds and greens.

At St Peter Hungate church in Norwich, a 15th-century angel stained glass angel is covered in feathers from neck to ankles and unfurls glorious orange feathered wings. More angels fly across a window with scrolls – the speech bubbles of the medieval world.

A stained glass angel, perched on the stable roof at Barton Turf church, near Stalham, rolls back the thatch to glimpse the holy family below. This country church, dedicated to St Michael and All Angels, is a treasury of angels, its medieval screen is like an angelic family tree. Angels, with great golden feathered wings and shining haloes and crowns, have alighted on the wooden screen. The traditional medieval hierarchy of angels – seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and angels was painted here, six centuries ago, by a great artist. Experts consider it perhaps the best of its kind in the country.

In Cawston, near Aylsham, wooden angels fly from the hammerbeam rood. A stone angel orchestra plays in the porch at Pulham St Mary church, near Diss, and East Anglia’s stained glass angels play a full range of medieval instruments – including the psaltery, lute, harp, gittern, viol and shawm.

The glorious carved angels of St Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds process in 11 pairs, high in the hammerbeam roof. Every angelic face is different. While inside Blythburgh church, serious-faced angels with golden ringlets and feathered robes have been watching over the “cathedral of the marshes” with wings outstretched, for six centuries. They survived a Puritan order to destroy them and today reign over a community blessed with an Angel Lane, Angel Field and Angel Marsh. At the Millennium the medieval angels were joined by a magnificent modern angel on the village sign. Just a few fragments of medieval stained glass angels escaped the destruction in beautiful Blythburgh church and still hover, fragments high in the windows, a haunting suggestion of the crowds of heavenly figures which once flew here.

Heavenly angels, carved and painted centuries ago, are almost miraculous survivals of medieval East Anglia. If you are in a church over Christmas, lift your eyes, as you sing glad tidings of great joy, and celebrate with the angels.

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