History of St Edmund's Church
The origins of the church
The parish church of St Edmund has been in constant use for over 950 years. The church stands in the south-east corner and within the walls of the Roman Town of Venta Icenorum, which went out of use some 750 years earlier. There are two possible reasons why the church was built here. Firstly it may have been rebuilt on the site of an earlier church found here. A second possibility is that the present church was built by the owner of an Anglo-Saxon manor house which may have stood in or near the abandoned Roman town. Certainly a church stood here in the reign of King Edward the Confessor (AD 1042-1066). He gave the manor and the church at Caistor to the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds which probably accounts for the dedication of the church and the village to St Edmund.
The earliest part of the church is the nave and is over 950 years old. Its south-west corner at the rear of the building is made from red tiles robbed from the walls of the Roman town. The original round-headed windows of the nave have been blocked up and replaced over the centuries and are no longer visible.
Changing fashions and the needs of the religous community have resulted in several alterations to the building.
The brick and flint porch has a stoup for holy water to the right of the fourteenth century door.
The heads on either side of the fourteenth century north doorway are unusual in that they look at one another instead of looking outwards. One wears a crown the other a mitre.
On the doorway are some ancient votive crosses and some scratches known as grafitti. The building with a spire probably represents Norwich Cathedral.
The knapped flint tower with stone corners is fourteenth century. The belfry windows are of brick and the battlements were added in the Tudor period. The west window of the tower is typical of the fourteenth century.
There are two gargoyles on the west side.
The tower originally held three bells which bore the following inscriptions:
- Anno Domini 1591 W.B.
- Anno Domini 1592 W.B.
- X Ave Maria
Numbers 1 and 2 were cast by William Brend. Unfortunately thieves stole numbers 1 and 3 in 1969. Number 2 was fitted with a striker mechanism in 1971.
The nave has a stoup just inside the door on the north wall. The two large windows are fifteenth century but the walls are probably older than this. The thatched roof was replaced in about 1800. The pulpit was dedicated in 1937.
The Royal Arms above the vestry screen to be found at the west end of the Church are those of Queen Anne 1714.
The Church has two wall paintings, unfortunately both very faded. The painting on the North side of the chancel, shown in the picture to the left depicts St John the evangelist holding the poisoned chalice with the poison in the form of a dragon emerging.
The other painting which is on the south wall, shown below, depicts St Christopher carrying the infant Christ across the river. This is probably fifteenth century; it was thought that anyone who looked on this painting would be free from sudden death that day.
In the floor of the nave, a stone matrix indicates the outline of a former brass.
The fifteenth century font is the most cherished possession of the church. It follows a type that is very common in East Anglia. The bowl has eight sides, on four of which are emblems of the Four Evangelists holding scrolls. The emblems are:
- an angel for St Mathew
- a lion for St Mark
- an ox for St Luke
- an eagle for St John
The other four panels are occupied by angels holding shields which respectively show the arms of St Edward the Confessor, the arms of the Diocese, instruments of the passion and the usual design of the Holy Trinity.
Around the stem are lions, and the whole is raised on two steps, as so often in East Anglia, thereby giving added dignity to the font. On the upper step is the following inscription "Oratr pro fratribus ac soribus ac benefactoribus gildae Sancti Johannis Baptiste de Castre".
The font cover was donated in 1970 in memory of the Rector, Canon T Blackhouse and was designed by Sir Bernard Feilden.
This has two thirteenth century lancet windows on each side.
The east window is perpendicular and is of the same date as the nave windows although there are traces of earlier windows.
There is a piscina on the south side, this, as is normal, has a drain down which is poured the water at the lavabo or washing of the priest's fingers before the canon of the mass begins. There is another opening on the east side of the piscina, this may be a stone seat, but, if so, its position east of the piscina is most unusual.
The south window has been lowered to form a low-side opening in connection with the ringing of the Sanctus bell.
On the north side is the priest's door which is of brick and dates from the Tudor period.
The best monument in the church is in the floor of the sanctuary. It is a ledger stone with a fine coat of arms, dated 1708.
The organ is on the south side of the chancel. It is a small chamber organ, constructed by Mark Noble (Senior) of Norwich. It has one manual and 1.5 octaves of pull down pedals. From a detailed survey carried out in 1998, the date of construction is estimated to be 1840. The survey comments, 'it is a quite lovely instrument with an enchanting sound enhanced by the excellent acoustics of the church'
The organ, which was originally hand pumped, was fitted with an electric blower in 2001. This followed soon after the installation of electricity and water supplies to the church in 1999.
The ‘Kingdom’ of East Anglia had its origins in the 5th century migrations of Angles and Saxons from North Germany and Denmark. By the early 7th century towns began to be established with continental trade flourishing and political regal development and the introduction of Christianity. Their most notable King, Redwold, was buried in astonishing splendour at Sutton Hoo in 625. After his death the fortunes of the Kingdom fluctuated with increasing pressure and eventual domination of the Middle Kingdom of England of Mercia by 793 and Northumbria by 821.
St Edmund was born in about 840 and was crowned King of East Anglia in 855 at Burres according to the Annals of St Neots, an early 11th century record. Some accounts suggest that he was descended from the preceding kings of East Anglia although there is also suggestion that he was born in Nuremberg, Germany son of King Alcmund of Saxony. He was considered a modern ruler from the start and as Abbo Fleury’s Life of St Edmund translated by K Cutler states “Edmund the Blessed, King of East Anglia, was wise and worthy, and exalted among the noble servants of the almighty God. He was humble and virtuous and remained so resolute that he would not turn to shameful vices nor would he bend his morality in any way, but was ever mindful of the true teaching: ‘if you are installed as a ruler, don’t puff yourself up, but be among men just like one of them”.
In 870 he managed to repulse two Danish chiefs Hinguar and Hubba who invaded East Anglia. However, they soon returned with an overwhelming force and pressed terms on him that as a Christian he felt bound to refuse. To avert a massacre he disbanded his troops and retired towards Franglingham. On his way he was captured and taken to Hinguar who demanded that he forsake Christ and become his vassal-king. King Edmund refused to submit to this demand. He was then dragged out, beaten, tied to a tree and whipped. He called out to Christ to aid him which infuriated his captors who shot arrows into him and then while he was still calling out to Christ beheaded him. The site of the martyrdom has been suggested as being at a place called Haegelisdun although in 1101 Hoxne was claimed to be the site also Hellesdon near Norwich has been suggested.
There are many accounts of miracles associated with the St Edmund however these cannot be corroborated. However, whatever the truth, his influence survived the times of Danish domination to become the focal point for the development of one of the greatest abbeys of England, whose abbey church was the largest in Europe.
CAISTOR ROMAN TOWN (VENTA ICENORUM)
Caistor Roman Town ‘Venta Icenorum’ (Market Place of the Iceni) is one of only three Roman towns that has survived to such an extent without disturbance from modern development. Norfolk and north Norfolk were home to the Iceni prior to Roman settlement. It is likely that they had a tribal settlement near to Caistor. The Iceni were led by Queen Boudica who rebelled against Roman rule in AD61.
It was after this rebellion was suppressed that the Roman Town at Caistor was established to bring stability to the area. The town streets were planned in a rectangular grid pattern. In the late AD 200s, a massive flint wall 6 metres high and an outer ditch were built to defend the town centre.
To the south of the town aerial photography has revealed evidence that suggests the site of an oval amphitheatre used for public entertainment. Caistor’s main entrance was probably on the western side, where the major Roman road from the river crossed the river into the town. That road, now the A140 through Long Stratton and Scole, is still a main route into the region from the south, nearly 2000 years later.
[account taken from leaflet produced by English Heritage and South Norfolk District Council]
The site is owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and managed in partnership with South Norfolk District Council.
Dr William Bowden of the University of Nottingham's Department of Archeology is currently conducting a research project on behalf of Nottingham Univeristy, South Norfolk District Council, the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service and English Heritage .
More information on this project and the Roman Town can be found here .
During the construction of the church extension a survey was carried out by the University of Nottingham. Click here to review the report (will open in a new window).