Castle Corner: What are five of the most fascinating medieval religious objects in the upcoming gallery?

Antiquarian watercolour of the St Gregory panel. 

Antiquarian watercolour of the St Gregory panel. Picture: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery - Credit: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery 

When Norwich Castle keep reopens, its new medieval gallery in partnership with the British Museum will feature a Those who Pray section. 

A wide range of objects will be displayed allowing visitors to study them in detail and a series of activities will enable the exploration and understanding of medieval religious beliefs and practices. 

Andrew Ferrara, Project Curator, Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn, considers his top five favourite religious objects destined for the gallery. 

1. Horse harness pendants of the Bishop of Norwich 

These small metal pendants are adorned with the Bishop of Norwich’s coat of arms. They would have hung from the harness of the bishop’s horse or one of his wider retinue. They are just portions of the wider expensive dress and attire that would have adorned the bishop, demonstrating his wealth and status to other members of society. In the medieval period, due to the extensive landholdings, the bishop was probably the wealthiest magnate in Norfolk and a very powerful figure within local politics.  

2. Inscribed finger ring 

Among the many different objects that show expressions of personal beliefs and piety, this ring is one of my favourites. The band is engraved with the Latin for “Jesus is my love.” It was found near a small village in north Norfolk and is a poignant object, showing the personal faith and reflections of someone five hundred years ago, but equally speaks to many people today. 

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3. The Matlask Reliquary 

This small pendant is wonderfully engraved and enamelled on the front with the scene of the crucifixion of Jesus. The capital T shape of the object points to it being associated with St Anthony and may have held a relic of his. St Antony was specifically associated with protection against ergotism, a fungus poisoning through contaminated barley or rye, which caused severe pain and convulsions. The Matlask Reliquary would have been owned to help guard against this affliction, which was common in the Middle Ages. It offers us a glimpse of how people strove to live their lives and protect themselves from disease in centuries past. 

Photograph of the St Gregory’s screen. 

Photograph of the St Gregory’s screen. Picture: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery - Credit: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery 

4. St Gregory’s panel 

Churches in medieval times were often much more colourful and decorated than they are today. Large amounts of this art did not survive, but the panel from St Gregory’s church in Norwich is a fantastic example of types of ornament that were previously much more common. Its shows St John the Baptist and St Barbara, plus an angel playing a lute. These vibrant colours and figures completely change the nature of church interiors and it is interesting to reflect on how these buildings have changed and evolved over time.  

5. Castle Acre processional 

This manuscript contains the musical notation for religious processions, most likely from the Cluniac Priory in Castle Acre. There were different scores for the different religious practices and these types of books would have been found in many institutions like abbeys and cathedrals. The manuscript is an amazing window into some of the sounds of the medieval world and provides the opportunity for sensory immersion into the past. In the new gallery, we are planning to have recordings of the music which can be listened to while following the notes on the page.  

Castle Corner: related articles in our 6-part series: 

Who was the greatest Knight? 

How were medieval structures built? 

Top 5 famous medieval fighters

Five interesting jobs of medieval times 

Why does Norwich have so many churches? 

Following the recent government announcement, Norwich Castle and our other museum sites have closed and will remain closed until further notice. However, construction work on the Royal Palace Reborn project can continue during lockdown, in line with government guidance.

Find us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to keep in touch with the project, and explore fascinating stories from the project and our collections on Norwich Castle’s YouTube channel and blog.

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