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Passion for Churches, A (1974)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Medieval portraits of saints are covered by Elizabethan text. Pauline Plummer works on painstakingly restoring the chancel screen at Ranworth. In the 15th century, Norwich was famous for its medieval painters, who also painted on glass. The city of Norwich itself contains more medieval churches than London, York and Bristol put together, the grandest of which is St Peter Mancroft. The Cathedral was built from imported Norman stone. Maurice Wood, Diocesian Bishop of Norwich, meets the Mothers' Union and institutes a new rector.

Every parish church has a house, usually beside the churchyard. Some need extensive upkeep, such as the Tudor building at Great Snoring. In Weston Longville in the eighteenth century, Parson Woodford wrote diaries describing his dinner. His successor types the parish magazine. At Leatheringsett, the Parochial Church Council holds a meeting. Church fetes are a regular event, for fundraising purposes.

St Mary Bylaugh, in the Wensum valley, has a triple-decker pulpit for announcing hymns, reading prayers and preaching sermons. Brass rubbings are taken at St Margaret by Felbrigg, though Betjeman complains that these calm, bland effigies tell us little about life in the time of Sir Simon and Lady Margaret Felbrigg. At a wedding, bellringer Billy West says that he's addicted to their sound.

St Bennett's Abbey by the river Bure is now just an archway and a Georgian mill. But the Sisters of All Hallow's Ditchingham remain productive, making communion wafers and producing honey from their own beehives.

Walsingham is the destination of modern pilgrims, who arrive by train to visit the site when in 1061 the lady of the manor saw the Virgin Mary. An elaborate procession reminds Betjeman more of something in Sicily or Malta than anything to do with the Church of England.

Sandringham Church adjoins the Queen's country estate, its Edwardian decorations reflecting its connection with Edward VII and Queen Alexandra: the elaborate silver decorations were donated by Rodman Wanamaker, an American admirer. A sculpture of St George is by Sir Alfred Gilbert, best known for Eros in Piccadilly Circus.

Booton's church has outsized pinnacles and outstanding stained glass, paid for by a rich Victorian rector. At Martham, choirboys rehearse while the Rector, Father Cooling, pursues his hobby of model engineering.

Wymondham's Norman abbey has been lavishly decorated by Sir Ninian Comper, who added reredos of sculptured gold. He similarly transformed Lound in Suffolk. Colour was very important to Comper, and he made his own characteristic pink material in Spain by bleaching scarlet silk in the sun.

The Vicar of Flordon rings the bell for Matins every day for eleven years, regardless of whether anyone comes. Some churches have ceased functioning altogether: St Benedict's in Norwich is a mere tower, St Edmund at Fishergate stores shoe soles. Young artists use St Lawrence and St Mary Coslany as studios. St Helen's at Norwich is a hospital and a hostel. Betjeman muses on the historical importance of churches and the importance of preserving the buildings.

22 miles out to see, the Smiths Knoll lightship is still part of the Norwich diocese, and is duly visited by a chaplain. On inland waters, Canon Blackburn of the Norfolk Broads takes to a boat to summon the floating members of his flock to Easter Service. On Easter Day, the ladies of the Castle Rising almshouse don Jacobean hats and cloaks. The bells of St Peter Mancroft resound throughout Norwich.