Weird Norfolk: The brave Bishop Beaver of Babingley

The village sign at Babingley. Picture: Ian Burt

The village sign at Babingley. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Standing as a signpost to a village that longer bustles, in a rhododendron clearing in the woods, Mark Goldsworthy's timber carving shows the curious tale of the brave Bishop Beaver of Babingley.

The River Babingley. Picture: Ian Burt

The River Babingley. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

The story behind the beautiful wooden sign is a particularly charming legend: it is said that when St Felix landed in East Anglia from Burgundy in 631 with the noble intention of introducing Christianity to the region, he arrived at the Wash and began to sail up the River Babingley which was, at this time, still navigable. Caught in a violent storm, St Felix's ship floundered in the water and he was saved from drowning, so the tale has it, by a colony of beavers which guided him to safety.

In gratitude, the Apostle to the East Angles sought out the chief of the beavers and consecrated him as a bishop to thank him for saving his life and allowing him to deliver 'all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness'. His act is remembered on the sign which shows a beaver in a bishop's mitre grasping a crook – and while the river is now little more than a stream and the village

is just a few houses and its church which bears the saint's name is just an empty shell (replaced by St Mary and St Felix, a thatched iron building constructed from a kit), the ecclesiastical rodent's legend lives on.

After leaving Babingley, St Felix made his way to Canterbury where he was ordained by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the request of King Sigebert of East Anglia, who had invited Felix to evangelise his kingdom.

The 14th-century parish church of St Felix was used for worship until the 19th century and and is now part of the nearby Sandringham estate - it is said to be the site of the first Christian church to be built in Norfolk and is sited around 200m to the north of the Babingley River, marking the spot where St Felix landed. Beavers have been absent from Norfolk since the 12th century, with the last spotted in Britain during the 1600s.

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