An exhibition at Norwich Cathedral celebrating the medieval splendour of Norfolk’s rood screens aims to encourage more people to visit the fascinating artwork in the county’s churches.

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The display features the work of Paul Hurst who has visited a cross-section of 24 churches across the county to explore and photograph these highly-decorated chancel screens.

The panels are accompanied with explanatory text by Jeremy Haselock, Vice Dean of Norwich Cathedral.

Among the detailed, life-sized images are a complete set from the rood screen at St Michael and all Angels in Barton Turf, near Wroxham, which is considered to be one of the finest in the country.

Its 12 sections depict the nine orders making up the angelic hierarchy – Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Principalities, Cherubim, Seraphim, Dominations, Virtues and Powers – and three female saints, Apollonia, Zita and Barbara.

Mr Hurst, a self-employed designer from Horsham St Faith, said: “I was never aware of this hierarchy before I saw these screens. This is what I think people rare really engaging with. You can learn about things you might not have been aware of before, and the quality is just wonderful.

“People are walking through here and seeing things that are in their next village and they didn’t even know they existed, which is a great shame. When you go and see them in a church it is a wonderful experience.”

Although the screens were painted during the 14th and 15th century, the quality of the artwork can be seen in the fine details of the saints’ faces and the angels’ feathers.

Mr Hurst said: “Around the time, Norwich was England’s second city because of the wool trade, as everything was passing through the city on its way to London to be traded.

“There were a lot of rich people around, particularly landowners, and they became the benefactors who built our churches. They thought that if they paid for rood screens and stained glass windows, chances are they would get into heaven if they spent that money in a church.

“A lot of them were decorated with saints and we believe a lot of the artwork was created in Norwich’s artists’ quarter.”

A centrepiece of the display contains an original rood screen panel collected from St Michael at Plea church in Norwich, depicting St Margaret of Antioch spearing a dragon at her feet.

“It is normally locked away in the vestry here at the cathedral, so not many people get the chance to see it,” said Mr Hurst.

The exhibition coincides with the launch of Mr Hurst’s book, called Norfolk Rood Screens, which will be formally launched at 1pm today at the Hostry.

The book explains how to identify the saints by their appearance and by the objects they are holding.

St Apollonia, the patron saint of dentists, is depicted holding tongs with a tooth in them, while St James, who can be found at Castle Acre in West Norfolk, always has a scallop on his hat.

About 300 copies of the self-published book have been sold since the start of December, but Mr Hurst said he needs to sell another 200 to cover the costs of its production.

“The aim is not to make profit – it is to get people to visit churches like Barton Turf,” he said. “It is so beautiful, and there are so many others like it across Norfolk.”

The exhibition runs until January 30 at the Hostry in Norwich Cathedral, which is open daily 9.30am to 4.30pm and midday to 3pm on Sundays.

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