radiating cross flanked by cherubs (terracotta)
St Michael, Ormesby St Michael, Norfolk
St Michael is a little brother to the bigger Ormesby St Margaret a mile or so away, and there was once a third Ormesby parish church, St Peter, the site of which is still identifiable on some allotments not far off. St Michael sits beside the busy Caister to Cromer road, but has managed to surround itself with a few fields when much else around here is suburbia, garden centres, camp sites and the like. There's obviously been a lot of work done here recently; the thatching to the nave is neat and trim, and the porch is thatched too, which always looks good. To the east is one of the biggest car parks of any church in East Anglia.
A small church then, and a locked church, and always locked - I've never found it open, and neither has anyone else I know. We eventually managed to track down a churchwarden, who grudgingly conceded that she could be at the church in half an hour if we could wait. I have to say that I always feel a bit guilty when this happens. I'm fairly well-spoken, thanks to my grammar school education having beaten my accent out of me, and both me and my companion - sorry, my companion and I - could claim to be representing well-known institutions. Most rural churchwardens are elderly working class people who quickly jump to please when confronted with authority figures like me. I don't mean to disparage them for being like that. This is England, that's just the way it is. I was pleased and impressed that she'd held out for the half hour.
I agreed to the arrangement, and with thirty minutes to spare we went off and explored the church at Filby, which like the great majority around here is open every day, and has a notice telling you so. When we came back, the church was still locked, but there was a light on inside. Eventually, we gained the attention of the nice lady inside by banging on the door. She came and let us in with a smile. "Have to keep the door locked," she said, "you never know who's going to wander into a church." Quite.
To say that the inside of this church is immaculate would perhaps be too high a claim, given the theological nuance of the word, but it must be one of the best-looked after churches in Norfolk. All the memorials have been relettered in fetching blues and golds, there is a pristine set of Elizabeth II royal arms as if the older ones were considered too tatty, everything is clean and tidy, and this simplicity is a foil to a wonderful collection of early 20th Century windows to the designs of Henry Holiday. Faith and Hope are to north and south of the chancel, and the glorious three-light window to Love is to the east. About ten years ago, a detail of it was used as the Royal Mail's first class Christmas stamp.
I asked why the church was kept locked. "we couldn't leave it open, they're a rough lot around here, and you get a lot of funny people on that car park," was the response. She was probably right. When we had returned from our expedition from Filby, we'd parked on the car park between a motorcyclist obviously waiting for a drugs drop-off, and a coy man in a car hiding his face, perhaps hoping for a pick-up. The setting was probably, as my companion observed, a doggers' paradise. But if this is all that stops Ormesby St Michael church being open to pilgrims and strangers, if this is all that prevents the parish from fulfilling its Christian responsibility to be the House of God and the Gate of Heaven, then perhaps they should consider locking the car park rather than the church when they aren't using it.