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Vandals desecrate nationally-recognised holy site in Dereham

11:27 30 June 2014

St Withaburga

St Withaburga's well at St Nicholas Church in Dereham, has been subjected to vandalism. Pictured are Sue Barker and Rev Canon Sally Theakston. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2014

Vandals have desecrated a nationally-recognised holy site in Dereham which is enshrined in the history of the town’s cherished patron saint.

St Withaburga's well at St Nicholas Church in Dereham, has been subjected to vandalism. Picture: Ian BurtSt Withaburga's well at St Nicholas Church in Dereham, has been subjected to vandalism. Picture: Ian Burt

The crime has upset organisers of the St Withburga Festival which takes place this weekend.

St Withburga’s Well, in the grounds of St Nicholas Church, is to be a focal point of the festival.

Vandals smashed five clay plant pots, prepared especially for the festival, into the well.

They appear to have squeezed through a gap in metal fencing surrounding the well.

The story of St Withburga is so integral to the history of Dereham that she has been depicted in the town sign.

The Rev Canon Sally Theakston said: “This place is very significant in the life of Dereham.

“It is also important nationally.

“We sometimes get people who are writing books about holy places throughout England visiting the well.

“So it is upsetting that somebody would do this. We would rather they asked us about it.”

Festival organiser Barbara D’Arts said: “We used to suffer quite a bit of vandalism in the church yard a few years ago but after working with the police, engaging with young people in Dereham and installing CCTV, which unfortunately didn’t pick anything up on this occasion, we thought we had seen the end of it.”

But the festival plans are back on course in part thanks to Floranova Ltd in Foxley, which has replaced the plant pots free of charge.

Mrs D’Arts said: “It is nice to see some community spirit out there and we are looking forward to a great festival.”

The St Withburga Festival, which is held annually, will be from Friday, July 4 through to Sunday, July 6 in and around St Nicholas Church.

There will be a craft fair in the church from 10am until 4pm on Friday and Saturday and also a summer fair in the church grounds from 10am until 1pm on the Saturday, when children are invited to bring a teddy bear to abseil down the bell tower.

A festival service will be held in the church on Sunday at 9.30am.

It is believed the vandalism took place on the evening of Saturday, June 21.

Anyone with information should contact Norfolk Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

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