fragments including hands of Christ the saviour of the world and a Jew's head (15th Century)
St Peter, Guestwick, Norfolk
This remote village is guarded by a large and curiously arranged church. There isn't another in Norfolk like it. At first sight, it appears that the tower was built on the north side of the chancel, and yet, a closer look tells you that the tower is older than the church. How has this come about?
The tower is that of a vanished church. At one time, it was a cruciform building with a central tower, quite possibly Saxon in origin. You can see the ghost of the vanished chancel arch on the east side of the tower, and that of the tower arch to the west. It may be that there never was a north transept - certainly, that to the south, where the chancel is now, was added in the 12th century. The church was rebuilt in the 15th century immediately to the south of the old one, a typical Perpendicular affair with aisles and a clerestory. The north aisle is on the line of the original nave. The top part of the tower is contemporary with the new church.
At one time you had to get a key to see inside, but now Guestwick church is open to pilgrims and strangers everyday, making it the beating heart of its little community as well as a touchstone down the long Guestwick generations.
Like most East Anglian Perpendicular churches, it underwent a fairly substantial 19th Century restoration, but it is a harmonious interior, full of light, and retaining some old woodwork, although the great nave roof is part of the restoration. The font is 15th century, made new for the new church, and the panels hold old shields with the symbols of some Saints, the Holy Trinity and the Instruments of the Passion.
But the star of the show here is obviously the fine collection of 15th century stained glass. The fragments have been reassembled in two windows in the north aisle, and like the font were probably made for the new church. The figures include most of a feathered angel playing a harp, as well as a fine St Catherine. There are two bishops, one given the head of an old man. Fragments include the head of a Christ Child and the arm and staff of the St Christopher who is carrying him. The are the two hands of an infant Christ as Salvatore Mundi, one holding an orb. An ugly head wearing a cowl was probably intended by our anti-semitic forebears as a jew at the flagellation or crucifixion of Christ.
This medieval splendour must not distract us from the fact that Guestwick has that rarest of beasts, a very fine millennium window. It depicts the wildlife of the parish, and is the work of Adam O'Grady, who installed it over a period of nearly ten years. The great fortune of Guestwick is that he lives in the parish.