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A splendid end to 2016

January 1, 2017

Sometimes a place so special, so important, exists on your doorstep, and although known in the periphery of your mind, only pulses the synapses when one is busy, or generates a ‘light bulb’ moment when a thousand miles away, or is remembered when driving past to be elsewhere on a deadline.  Such as this.

barton-turf-rood-screen

A typical medieval Norfolk church. Our county is both blessed and cursed in having so many.  Indeed Norfolk has more surviving medieval churches than anywhere else of similar size north of the Alps [635 remaining out of 1000 approx built]. So why is this one so special?

In the mid 15th Century, during the reign of King Henry VI, the incumbent Vicar of Barton Turf Church, Andrew Cok de Estryston, oversaw the painting of a typical Rood Screen in this small church, not far from Wroxham in the Norfolk Broads.  They were all the rage and very fashionable.

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Image of King Henry VI at Barton Turf

In this small church, dedicated to St Michael & All Angels, the clergy, laity and its benefactors made little attempt to disguise their reverence of the heavenly host, and – whether by divine providence or luck, the surviving paintings on this screen are an absolute delight and very rare indeed.

So, what makes this one so special?  After all, there are hundreds of rood screens across England with painted saints on them. Lets take a closer look.

During the wave of Protestant reform and Puritanical Zeal, the vast majority of rood screens, wall paintings, fonts, panels and all Papist/Catholic imagery was fair game for the Iconoclasts hammer, knife or paintbrush.

 

There are 12 painted panels forming the 2 halves of this screen, six either side. Of these 12, ten images are perfect. As if painted yesterday. By some miracle escaping the destruction wrought across the rest of the country.

According to Thomas Aquinas, writing in Summa Theoligica, [second half of 13th Century] there are 9 Orders of Angels, in 3 heavenly Spheres.

  • 1. Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones;
  • 2. Dominions, Virtues, and Powers;
  • 3. Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
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Here are the first two  images, to the left hand side of the central arch.

As you can see, typifying the vandalism of the age with faces crudely, hatefully scratched out.

The one on the left represents Dominions, the First Order of the Second Sphere (the Governors of the lower Angels).  Interestingly, the triple crown on its head is typical of that worn by the Pope and thus made this image an easy target.

The right hand figure swinging the thuribule, with 6 wings, ermine tippet and body covered in red feathers, is the head honcho of the Heavenly Host, the Seraphim.  [lit= the burning ones].

They are the highest angelic class and they serve as the caretakers of God’s Throne and continuously shout praises: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!

 

But now- a Revelation!

Here are the 2 images to the right hand side of the central arch. Just look at those faces!

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The left angel here represents the Cherubim – the Second Order of the First Sphere, known as The Counsellors, and Guardians of the Tree of Life in the Garden in Eden.

Every feather has an eye hence all-seeing and omnipotent.

The right panel depicts Principalities, the First Order of the Third Sphere.

These are the angels that guide and protect nations, or groups of peoples, and institutions such as the Church. The Principalities preside over the bands of angels and charge them with fulfilling the divine ministry.

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Back to the left hand side, central pairing.

The left image, of an angel in armour stomping on the devil, is usually attributed to The Archangel Michael, but here represents The Powers [the Third Order of the Second Sphere].

According to the information panel in the church this is Raphael, leader of Powers,  but I’m not sure. Raphael is mentioned in the Deuterocanonical Book of Tobias as one of the Seven who stands before the Lord and I’ve always known him as an Archangel.

The right hand figure is most assuredly Virtues [Strongholds]. These are  angels through which signs and miracles are made in the world. Typically 4 winged and blue feathered, with a lily.

 

Central Pair on Right Hand sideimg_3681

The left Angel defines Thrones, Third Order of the First Sphere, symbols of Justice & Authority [hence the Balance  & the Throne]. It has 4 green wings.

The other Angel is attributed here as the Second Order of the Third Sphere,  the Archangel Saint Michael, Captain of the Heavenly Angels and Satan’s nemesis, responsible for kicking him out of Heaven, here wielding mace & sword.

Other sources would say that Michael [ lit= like unto God] is the leader of the Seraphim and not just a mere archangel.

 

That leaves the last two pairings furthest away from the arch on either side.

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Here we see [on the left] the 9th and most common of the Angels. Representing the Third Order of the Third Sphere, they are the ‘malakhim’- the messengers.

The strange shaped device in his left hand or attached to his girdle is an alms box; you can just make out the slot for coins. He has 4 wings and a spear.

The right hand panel depicts Saint Barbara- we have run out of the Angelic Host now, so three more saints are needed to complete the 12 panels and  St Barbara is a worthy addition to the Screen. A 3rd century Martyr, one of the 14 Holy Helpers, she was beheaded by her own Father after he had her locked away in a Tower, hence the Tower held aloft in her right hand.

 

For the final panel of the Screen proper, we have two more female saints. Was the donor or patron of this Screen a Lady I wonder?

One the left, the furthest image is St img_3685Appollonia, depicted with the instrument of her torture- namely pincers, and the tooth held proudly aloft- now the Patron Saint of dentists.

Legend says she was threatened with the fire in 249 AD if she did not renounce Christianity, and sticking 2 proverbial fingers up at the mob, jumped into the flames of her own accord.

The final panel depicts St. Zita or Citha, an Italian- born maid servant from the 13th Century, who stole food from her masters kitchen to give to the poor- and surprisingly for the time was not only acquitted but praised for doing so.

 

 

So there it is. 2 miles from my house. If like me you get inspired by 15th Century art, whether van Eyck,  Bosch or some crude red-ochre’d wallpainting, then make your own pilgrimage there. Take a comfy chair, and enjoy.

“An Angel can illuminate the thought and mind of man by strengthening the power of vision.” ~ St Thomas Aquinas

All images taken by me. Thanks for reading.

More pictures and info of this church from other sources here:

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/bartonturf/bartonturf.htm

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One Comment
  1. Wow, that screen is gorgeous!

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