St Margaret's Church - An Introduction
St Margaret's Church in the Norfolk village of Paston dates from the 14th century and is constructed from flint. English Heritage has given it Grade I listed building status. It has an embattled tower that looks down on a thatched roof. The porch is on the south elevation and opens to a plain nave and chancel, which is divided by an original 15th century rood screen.
The church was restored in 1601, 1843 and again in 1869. In 1922 wall paintings were uncovered. One is of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ child. Another depicts the legend of the three kings who, when hunting merrily in the forest, suddenly encounter three hanging skeletons. There is also a small figure from a 'Weighing of Souls' and the remains of some post-Reformation texts.
The entrance porch and door for the church is on the south side, and the lych gate is also that side of the church. However, the lych gate leads out into woodland; the entrance to the churchyard currently in use from the road is on the north side of the church. The story of the change of position of the main road is to be found in the Paston Letters; the assumption is that the family did not want the hoi polloi of the village passing their grand house at Paston Hall on their way to church. You'll find more about this in one of our teaching units, The Wall Dispute.
The Paston Monuments are at the eastern end of the building. The tomb of Katherine Knyvet (the wife of Sir Edmund Paston), who died in 1628, stands on the north side of the chancel. This was created by Nicholas Stone, the master-mason to King Charles I, who was frequently employed by the Paston family, and contains a verse epitaph written by the famous 'metaphysical' poet John Donne, who was Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, London. The tomb is made of alabaster and pink-veined marble and shows a semi-reclining Lady Katherine, sculpted in white marble, surrounded by numerous allegorical figures.
Stone also composed the neighbouring tomb of Sir Edmund, who died in 1632. This has a plain urn on a bare base in an aedicule of black Doric columns. Pevsner comments that the 'contrast between the severity of the one and the ebullience of the other is startling'. The chancel also contains three tomb-chests. The one at the eastern end is believed to be that of John Paston, who died in 1466 and was originally buried in Bromholm Priory in a magnificent funeral involving forty barrels of beer and ale - and much, much more.
There are some stained glass windows that are in memory of members of the Mack family alongside memorial plaques within the nave. The east window is in memory of John Mack of Paston Hall, who died in 1867, and is attributed to the firm of Clayton and Bell. The south window next to the rood loft doorway is dedicated to Lt Cdr Ralph Michael Mack RN, who went down with his ship, HMS Tornado, off the Dutch coast in 1917. TheTornado was a destroyer, part of the Harwich Force. She was an escort to a Netherlands-bound convoy when she and three other destroyers found themselves in an enemy minefield; the Tornado struck two mines, and only two survivors were picked up.
An antiphon - a remarkable find
There was a remarkable find in the church a few years ago, when the organ was moved. A doorway to the rood screen was cleared, and various documents were found there.
Among them was a piece of paper which had been re-used for notes, but the antiphon for which the paper had originally been used could still be read. It contained just part of the music - a piece written for a choir or congregation to respond to the singing. It was a magical evening when the piece was sung once again in the church.
In 2015 the Paston Heritage Society received a grant from the North Norfolk Coastal Partnership to enable it to take forward its 3D and video reconstruction of life in the village in earlier years. The 3D panorama below begins to show St Margaret's as it may have appeared in the middle of the 15th century. Wall paintings are being added, based on the elements of the paintings that survive today - all of course covered up at the time of the Reformation.
Pictures of angels
Elements of the angels above the chancel arch indicate that pictures of angels were once seen there, and the red edging around the arch was typical of the period. Specialist help has enabled us to picture what the nave might have looked like, with two small chapels either side of the chancel entrance.
Use your computer mouse (or your finger on a touch screen) on the picture to move it around, or you can use the controls at the bottom of the picture. Refresh your screen browser if you wish to bring it back to the original view we present here.
Recreation on video
The next stage in the process with the 3D scene you see above was, using the best advice available, to recreate the paintings around the church walls, starting from the image of St Christopher carrying the Christ child across the river that can be seen in the church today. Members of the Paston Heritage Society, in their period costumes, were then recorded against a green background. Today's technology enables them to appear in the church as it might have been before all such paintings were painted over.
Restoration of the Wall Paintings
In the autumn of 2021 the first phase of development of facilities at the church was undertaken, the restoration of the wall paintings. The delicate and highly-skilled work took place over a number of weeks; on 10th November 2021 Thomas Organ, who had led the work, gave a presentation to the parish, which he has kindly made available to us here. It is provided in video form and will run through the images; it can be used full screen for greater clarity and the video controls will enable you to spend more time on a particular image if you wish.