Our fine county of Norfolk has more churches, abbeys, priories and cathedrals collectively than any other in England.
Following their conquest and occupation of England, the Normans carried out not just a complete redistribution of land, but also undertook a huge reorganisation of the institutions of both church and state.
They undertook a massive church building programme between the 11th and 13th centuries. The cathedrals of England were totally rebuilt, new parish churches took shape in virtually every parish of the land, and monastery after monastery was planted across England.
At the heart of this renewal were the Benedictine monasteries. They were the great centres of spirituality and learning. Within their walls were to be found some of the most notable scholars and administrators of the age.
On my journey around Norfolk, I consider the position of these buildings today and what part they play in our community in the 21st century.
My Holy Trail starts at our wonderful Anglican Cathedral in Norwich and indeed ends there – some 900 years after its foundation as a Benedictine Monastery, with the monks long gone but with their values of worship, learning and hospitality still very much evident in the daily life of this community.
The journey takes in St John’s Catholic Cathedral, the most recently built of all the locations. The magnificent nave consists of 10 bays, supported by massive cylindrical column and houses some of the finest 19th century stained glass in Europe. Until 1976, when it became the Cathedral of the new Diocese of East Anglia, this church was believed to be the largest parish church in England. When you step inside it is hard to believe it has only been completed just over a century ago – it has the aura of a much older and established building.
Then the Priory that was Wymondham and the remaining Abbey, so important to the residents today, including those benefiting from their rich educational programme. Onto Thetford and a peek at the remnants of the Priory that was once one of the largest and richest religious foundations in medieval East Anglia.
Amongst the many extraordinary sights to see, the Saxon wall paintings at St Mary The Virgin church in Houghton-on-the-Hill near North Pickenham were certainly stand-out. And onwards to Creake Abbey, Walsingham and Binham.
It has been an interesting and hugely informative journey through just a small portion of the many hundreds of ecclesiastical sites throughout our county. A trail that allows us a peek back in time, to possibly gather an experience of life in centuries past, from which we can both indulge and learn. A trail to reflect the many twists and turns of life.
Join me each Tuesday at 8pm from February 7, on Mustard TV as I discover the monastic past on ‘The Holy Trail’.
The half-hour programmes will repeat on Fridays and Saturdays and can also be found, once broadcast www.mustardtv.co.uk/show
Pictured above, the two cathedrals of Norwich which feature in the first part of Holy Trail.