Acle St Edmund
St Edmund’s Church sits in a prominent position on the main street right in the centre of Acle, a small market town close to the famous Norfolk Broads.
It is dedicated to St Edmund, a local saint, born ca. 841, king of East Anglia from about 855 until his death 869 or 870.
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Visiting Acle St Edmunds Church
You cannot miss the church of St Edmund’s in Acle if you make the short detour from the main A47 Norwich to Great Yarmouth road, and drive through this small market town. St Edmund’s sits in an elevated position right on the corner of The Street. It is a very welcoming church; so far, we have always found it open on our visits. Should you be on a boating holiday on the Broads, a footpath leads from the River Bure to this small market town and its church.
On one of our visits, some nice and friendly ladies were arranging the flowers, and as we started a conversation, they wanted to know why I took that many photographs of the interior. When I told them of my website, and that I tried to visit all the Round Tower Churches in East Anglia and get into the churches, I mentioned that I hadn’t been successful in locating a key for neighbouring Fishley St Mary. Well, one of the ladies said that she had a key, and offered to collect it from home and come with us to visit Fishley church (see there). You sometimes need this kind of luck when visiting churches; it has happened more than once to us (of course, we do visit lots of churches).
On first glance, the church of St Edmund’s in Acle looks more interesting from the outside than inside. This is mostly due to the fact that a “proper” church in Norfolk has to have a thatched roof, and St Edmund’s delivers insofar that at least the nave is thatched. It has a 13th century tower, with its battlemented, carved parapet added in 1472. The pinnacles support seated figures in stone. The nave and chancel have large 14th century windows. The north porch through which you enter the church was added in 1495.
But there are also many interesting features inside which you will immediately spot, and some that you will be not able to see. What you will definitely notice on entering the church is the spectacular 15th century font which still has traces of colour. Its bowl has carved panels, showing on the east The Trinity, with God the Father holding the Son as a Crucifix (now lacking the body of Jesus) and the Holy Spirit as a dove (replaced). On the west side is a Pietá, The Blessed Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus.
Also to be seen are the emblems of the four Evangelists, a winged man (Matthew), winged lion (Mark), winged bull, (Luke) and eagle (John), and a panel showing the instruments of the Passion, the Cross, crown of thorns, spear, etc.. The eighth panel shows a symbol of the Trinity. The font stands on a base indicating the date 1410, with its stem surrounded by seated lions and woodwoses, (wild men with clubs). The towering font cover is a 1934 copy of a medieval one.
In the south-east corner of the nave, within the space of the former Rood stair entrance, are displayed some rescued Norman stonework, probably indicating there was a church here in the 12th century. A locked glass door with iron bars leads to the aforementioned former stairwells to the screen. Not really spectacular from the outside, but within this stairwell hides a demon!
Here is a quote from this excellent article in the Eastern Daily Press (external link):
“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.”
You can also see a photograph of this hidden treasure in the article, one I was not able to make due to the locked door.
Opposite, on the north wall behind the pulpit is a rather new but pretty nativity scene window. The 15th century Rood screen may well have come from elsewhere as it does not stretch the full width to the Rood stairs. It has crossed arrows and “E”s for St Edmund.
Within the chancel, below the north-west window, is a message in charcoal, written about 1472, by a priest at the time of a plague, lamenting the death of so many people.
It is in Latin, and the translation reads:
“Oh lamentable death, how many dost thou cast into the pit! Anon the infants fade away, and of the aged, death makes an end. 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”
Nearby is a brass plate remembering Thomas Stones, +1627. This is unusual in that there are supposed to be only six brasses in England remaining from the time of Charles I (1625-49). The chancel’s stone piscina and sedilia are carved with typical decorations of the 14C, when the chancel was built, (before 1362).
There is also the nice east window, and in the south-eastern wall of the chancel, a roundel of stained glass showing Mary and the child can be seen in the large window. It looks rather old, but is in fact a replica of modern times.