WEIRD NORFOLK: The many hidden secrets of Acle church and how St Edmund needs your help to protect them all
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
It sounds like a dark fairytale: a demon locked away in a tall turret, hidden from view – at Acle's St Edmund church, fear was once written on the walls.
In a locked turret at St Edmund Church in Acle, there's a devilish secret hidden high on the wall, a medieval wall painting of a secret demon with serpent ears, claws and a forked tongue. The red demon hangs, mid-air, in the turret where there once was a spiral staircase leading to a loft above the church's 15th century rood screen - now long gone, a doorway high above the nave the only sign that it ever existed. Why he was painted in such a hidden spot is a mystery - high on what would have been the stairway ceiling, the painting is in an area which is highly unusual for such an illustration. Theories include that it was part of a judgement scene painted over the chancel arch, which would have shown the mouth of hell, or that it was a practice painting for later work - could it be linked to Acle's other piece of famous graffiti, discovered in 1912.
On the north wall of the chancel, is a chilling piece of Latin graffiti, possibly written at the time of the Black Death in 1349, when swathes of the population were wiped out and when faith in the Church as an institution was shaken to its core. Yet it was priests who often did all they could to give their parishioners spiritual solace as they faced their darkest days - was this graffiti written by a clergyman desperately saying mass for the dead as the body count rose. Around 45 per cent of Acle's population were wiped out by the Plague. The graffiti mentions the fashionable horned hats worn by ladies during this period (although could refer to the horns of the devil and veils of the faithful). It reads:
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"Oh lamentable death, how many dost thou cast into the pit!
Anon the infants fade away, and of the aged, death makes an end.
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Now these, now those, thou ravagest, O death on every side;
Those that wear horns or veils, fate spareth not.
Therefore, while in the world the brute beast plague rages hour by hour,
With prayer and with remembrance (we) deplore death's deadliness".
A message from the past to the future to remind us all that death doesn't respect age, wealth, piety or power - without prejudice, it claims the lives of all.
St Edmund is a church filled with curious and fascinating features: there are scorch marks on an oak door high on the wall close to the porch which are thought to be ritual markings designed to ward off evil, there's graffiti from 1616 on a window ledge ("God save the Kinge") and there is a stunning nativity stained glass window where an infant Jesus rests in a stable underneath a starry sky. The font is a particular treasure, the original early 15th century colours can still be seen on the stone lions, wildmen or woodwose and evangelists. Iron nails are still evident in the crucifix held by God and Mary holds her dead son Jesus in her arms, protecting him in death as she could not in life.
Reverend Martin Greenland of the Acle and Bure to Yare Benefice, which includes seven churches within the Diocese of Norwich, said that St Edmund had a host of reasons to visit, and that he hoped those that did would consider helping protect them from the elements. St Edmund faces a threat far greater than the demon locked in its turret: urgent repairs are needed to the thatched roof which will cost around £40,000, of which around 30 per cent has already been raised. "We don't know what damage there is underneath the thatch and we are keen to act swiftly to make sure that the church is protected," said Rev Greenland. "It is a wonderful building with so many hidden surprises and we know that people love it and will want to help us."
The south slope of the nave roof was rethatched in 1996 and now it is the turn of the north slope - if you would like to help , pledge your support at www.justgiving.com/aclepccFor more Weird Norfolk stories click here.
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