April 14 – A Visit to North Creake to meet Jason Welsh and see his carved Bayeux Tapestry

A visit to the shrine at Little Walsingham - England's Nazareth

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

We travelled up to Norfolk today to visit Jason Welch at North Creake who has carved the entire length of the Bayeux Tapestry in wood but on the way, we had to visit a few churches.

An easy find of the cache at St Peter and St Paul church at Hoxne which was unfortunately closed as it was only 8.45 am. We are just driving back down the driveway when we realised that a couple were opening the church. So we backed up and went to say hello. We were really glad we did as it was a lovely church which we would not have like to miss. The font had a lovely cover with an opening cupboard which revealed a beautiful picture. There was a fantastic two-sided lectern where the Old Testament lessons are read from one side and the New Testament readings from the other side. But the most interesting thing was the museum cases full of information about St Edmund and about the Hoxne Hoard. We are so glad that geocaching took us there. There are three large wall paintings on the north wall of the nave. The first wall painting depicts St Christopher. The second, which looks like a tree, is the seven deadly sins. The third, seven figures with scrolls, is the seven works of mercy. The font is an excellently preserved example of a 15th-century East Anglian font, with a modern cover in the late medieval style. The nave has a 19th-century interior, with some good quality stained glass. The north aisle is the village museum, with displays and artefacts illustrating the history of the parish. There is a large display on the Hoxne Treasure, a vast Roman hoard discovered here in the early 1990s. It is now on prominent display at the British Museum in London. The treasure is one of the most valuable Roman hoards ever discovered in Britain; another, the Mildenhall Treasure, was also discovered in Suffolk.

But it is not for the Hoxne Treasure that the village is most famous. For here, so legend has it, the martyrdom of St Edmund occurred. Edmund was King of East Anglia and was murdered by a raiding party of Vikings in 870. Shot by arrows, he was then decapitated. His followers, searching for the head, found it three days later, guarded by a huge wolf. A wolf, therefore, is one of his symbols; another is a crown surrounding a pair of crossed arrows. While St Felix is patron Saint of Suffolk, St Edmund is patron Saint of East Anglia and should be of all England.

St Mary’s church at Long Stratton and St Mary’s church in Newton Flotman were both closed and we did find one of the geocaches.  We found the church micro at Hempton but we never did see the church itself, it must have been across the paddocks somewhere. The next church was St Peter and St Paul’s church at Fakenham where the cache was easily found. The church was lovely and had an embroidered altar frontal with a medieval chancel screen behind it. It also had some wonderful stained glass windows including the “Raising of Jairus’ Daughter from 1890. There were memorial brasses and ledger stones as well as a lovely octagonal font and angels carved in wood on the roof. We also went to St Mary and All Saints church at Sculthorpe which was also closed and we did not find the geocache either. We are having a very patchy day both for finding churches open and for finding geocaches. We also looked for a village sign cache on the village green at South Creake but without any success. It is a lovely sign and a village green with the river Burn running through it.

Finally, we arrived at North Creake and went to visit Jason and Belinda Welch. Jason’s carving of the Bayeux Tapestry is fantastic. It is a similar width to our mosaic, about a half-scale of the Bayeux Tapestry and he spent two years carving it on limewood planks. It is 41 metres long or 135 ft and in 27 panels. The colour is added by using wood stains. Jason is a lovely guy and we spend several hours looking at each panel and talking about 1066, a favourite subject for us all. Jason also carves many other medieval subjects including a carpet page from the Book of Durrow and other biblical scenes such as his beautiful Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus and Celtic designs. We read about Jason’s project several years ago and visiting him and seeing his wonderful artwork has been on our “Bucket List” ever since.

After saying a fond farewell to Jason and Belinda we went to visit St Mary’s church at North Creake. It was well worth the visit with an amazing round font with an opening font cover with a triptych of Christ and the children inside dating from 1897. The lectern had four carved saints on it. In the chapel was a lovely dado with four scenes on it which has been transformed into a reredos. The main reredos has a matching altar frontal and is fantastic in paint and gold by William Searle Hicks, a great-nephew of Sir Charles Berry. The chancel roof had Victorian painted angels and there is a squint leading to the vestry. There was a mid-14th-century triple sedilia with corbels and painted diapering and a Charles I royal coat of arms from 1635. Also an oak rood screen and a ledger stone of Priscilla Powdich from 1735. The cache was quickly found in this pretty village.

Not far from North Creake, we found the ruins of Creake Abbey, a free English Heritage site. Creake began as a small church founded in 1206 or the private use of Sir Robert de Nerford and Lady Alice, his wife. They later transformed it into a hospital for a master, four chaplains and thirteen Christian paupers. Ten years later the community adopted the Rule of St Augustine and it became a priory. In 1231 King Henry III became its patron and Creake was given abbey status. By 1506 the abbey and its property passed to the Crown after a terrible fire and then disease killed the inhabitants.

We had been told by several people that we should visit Walsingham which is known as England’s Nazareth. It has been a place of pilgrimage since Saxon times and is famous for its Shrine of Our Lady and its ruined priory.  In medieval times, Walsingham was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world and a rival to even Rome! Walsingham is famous for its religious shrines in honour of the Virgin Mary and also contains the ruins of two Medieval monastic houses. We visited both the Anglican shrine and the Catholic shrine but we arrived too late in the day to visit the ruins as they were closing just as we arrived. All the shops in the town sell religious mementoes and many people walking around the town are dressed in ecclesiastical robes. The Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is quite overpowering with its colour and decoration. There are tombs to Rt Rev Mowbray Stephen O’Rorke who died 1953 and Father Arthur Tooth who died in 1931. There are also lots of chapels all beautifully decorated and walls of tribute prayer candles burning. The Holy House altar is a magnificent piece by Sir Ninian Comper. There was also a Holy Well rediscovered in 1931. Everywhere was a riot of colour and gold and inspired mixed feelings of wonder and unease. I began to understand where the Puritans of the 16th-century were coming from.

We then drove up the road to the Roman Catholic shrine, the Slipper Chapel expecting it to be even more splendid. Instead, we found a much easier place to visit and included an explanation of the fourteen “Stations of the Cross” which we have seen in many churches but has never understood fully before. There was an open air church here as well as an inside church where evening mass was taking place. There was also a very interesting timeline of the English Marian Shrines. The Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham was a lovely restful place to spend some time.

On our way home, we passed East Barsham Manor which was built for Sir Henry Fermor in the 1520’s. Some or all of it appeared to be for sale for £2.95 million and we daydreamed about having somewhere permanent for our “1066 – A Medieval Mosaic” exhibition as well as plenty of gardens to fill Barbie’s days and nights and accommodation for visitors too. We just need to be 20 years younger to take on such a massive undertaking. Still, dreams are free.