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Splendour of Norwich churches celebrated with Flintspiration!

PUBLISHED: 11:11 30 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:31 01 May 2017

St Peter Mancroft. Picture: Norwich Historic Churches Trust

St Peter Mancroft. Picture: Norwich Historic Churches Trust

Copyright Norwich Historic Churches Trust.

The splendour of Norwich’s medieval churches, and their churchyards and street settings, are being celebrated across the city this weekend

St Mary Coslany. Picture: Norwich Historic Churches Trust St Mary Coslany. Picture: Norwich Historic Churches Trust

The first Flintspiration festival will highlight the entire collection of Norwich’s medieval church masterpieces for the first time in their history. Built to point the people of Norwich towards heaven, they are now renowned as the most important collection of churches in northern Europe.

The glorious arches and towers, carving and flintwork, soaring interiors and tranquil churchyards, are being lifted from our day-to-day streetscape and gathered into a festival of dance, drama, processions, walks, talks, tours, music, ancient traditions, modern-day stonemasons, services, bells and even beer.

Flintspiration, the first festival of Norwich’s medieval churches, runs across the bank holiday weekend.

Performances, processions, dance, drama, walks, talks and family fun will link northern Europe’s largest collection of medieval churches, all in Norwich city centre and now used as artists’ studios, exhibition and performance spaces, book stores, antiques centres, a school for stone masons, a martial arts centre and a circus training school, as well as several which are still used for worship after many centuries at the centre of parish life.

St Clement Church. Picture: Norwich Historic Churches Trust St Clement Church. Picture: Norwich Historic Churches Trust

Tour usually-locked churches, see a medieval mystery play and traditional crafts outside the Forum, meet costumed characters across the city and enjoy drop-in theatre performances telling he history of Norwich in a journey around St Martin-at-Palace church.

The packed Flintspiration programme is focused around three hub churches – St Martin-at-Palace, near the law courts, for performance, St Stephen’s, beside Chapelfield, for family activities, and St Peter Mancroft as the main festival hub.

For full details of a very full programme visit the hub churches and flintspiration.org

And a city of churches is also a city of churchyards – islands of plants and wildlife scattered through a landscape of shopping streets and office buildings. And because Norwich is uniquely blessed with churches, it also has an abundance of churchyards – lovely patches of green, with trees and lichen-covered tombs and ancient railings.

Gerard Stamp Gerard Stamp

Together these survivals from our medieval cityscape still make up more than 12 acres of open space.

By Victorian times the churchyards were full, and closed to new burials. Many became hemmed in by the expanding, industrialising city. But recent developments have started opening up views across Norwich churchyards, and sometimes incorporated them into 
parkland.

Goldfinches flock to peaceful St Peter Hungate, the Cathedral has its spectacular peregrine falcons and pied wagtails can often be seen at St Stephen’s, which is also one of the main approaches to the Chapelfield shopping centre.

“It now attracts thousands of people a day to an area that was previously inaccessible to the public,” said George Ishmael, a landscape architect and trustee of Norwich Historic Churches Trust.

On St Benedict’s Street the churchyards become music venues during street festivals and a project called Heavenly Gardens is creating havens for wildlife and people in Norwich’s churchyards. The mini nature reserves will be used for picnics, photography and horticulture and George’s vision is of the churchyards becoming a collective botanical garden - linked by walking trails through the city.

For Flintspiration he is leading three themed walks through some of the churchyards.

Eventually he hopes to link 32 city churchyards in a series of information leaflets, plus six walking trails. The first three are now available from the Tourist Information Centre in The 
Forum, and this weekend, 
from the Flintspiration hub churches.

Heaven’s Gate links seven churchyards between the tower of ruined St Benedict’s to St Peter Hungate on Princes’ Street. Mancroft links the four churchyards between All Saints and St Giles. Friars Walk links five churches and the Cathedral, between St Saviour’s, on Magdalen Street, and Tombland.

For Flintspiration George will lead a walk from St Peter Mancroft at 1pm each day. Today the theme is herbs, tomorrow it is garden volunteering and on bank holiday Monday the theme is wildflower conservation.

Some of the churchyard treasures highlighted in the Flintspiration walks include: St Margaret’s churchyard, on St Benedict’s, which has been replanted by volunteers as a medieval garden, using only plants available before 1500; St Giles, where the front has flowers and the famous wisteria hedge, while the rear is a wildflower meadow originally created at the request of neighbours with no gardens of their own; All Saints’, which has been planted by volunteers to become a friendship garden, along a theme of Norwich’s twin cities; and St John Maddermarket with its fascinating range of plants growing on the walls.

Every one of Norwich’s remaining medieval churches is pictured, in its streetscape, by artist David Luckhurst for his new book, Norwich Medieval Churches as part of the city landscape. The charming picture-postcard style paintings illustrate impressive heritage of historic churches in Norwich. The book is published by Lasse Press, price £10.99.

Artist Gerard Stamp fell in love with the churches of Norwich as a child, and is looking forward to seeing more of them than ever before this weekend. His luminous paintings reveal the intricate beauty of medieval window tracery and lace-like patterns spun from cream stone and dark flint, alongside the soaring scale of our churches.

He is exhibiting some of his pictures, as part of Flintspiration.

Gerard, who lives in Gunton, near Cromer, began drawing and painting churches as a schoolboy in Norwich. “For as long as I remember I’ve had a fascination with architecture, so buildings were always the first thing I would choose to draw,” he said. “One of my school projects was to draw all the Norwich fonts.”

His favourite Norwich churches include St Michael Coslany ‘because of its amazing and beautiful flintwork’ and St Stephen’s for its tower.

But his favourite building in the world is Norwich Cathedral, where his school art room was above the arch on the Ethelbert Gate. “I drew Norwich Cathedral more than anything,” he said.

Gerard became a full time artist at the age of 45, after a career in advertising, culminating as creative director and chair of a large London advertising agency.

His first solo show was in Norwich in 2005. Since then there have been exhibitions around the country and Gerard’s paintings were hung as the first exhibition in Norwich Cathedral’s Hostry. His work is held by the Queen, the Norwich Castle Museum and public and private collections around the world.

Gerard now paints from an idyllic lakeside studio he created from a 19th-century boathouse in Gunton Park.

Outside the city, his favourite Norfolk churches are Binham Priory (“utterly timeless, sitting by the dairy farm with the sea just over the hill,”) and Hales, near Loddon (“one of the most beautiful and atmospheric little Norman buildings in the country.”)

For Flintspiration Gerard is particularly looking forward to seeing inside some of the city churches which are not normally accessible. And one of Norfolk’s finest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries hopes to be able to visit a church linked to another of Norfolk’s most famous artists, and a hero from childhood. “I think I’d like to see St Mary Coslany, which was where John Sell Cotman was christened,” he said.

See some of Gerard Stamp’s work in St Andrew’s church 1-4pm today and 10am-4pm on Monday and the church will be filled with the music of medieval-style minstrels tomorrow afternoon.

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