The North Aisle
Retracing our steps and turning right, we enter the north aisle. In medieval times, the warm south was, perhaps obviously, associated with the sun and the masculine principle; the cold north was associated with the moon and the feminine, hence the Lady Chapel was almost always located to the north of the church, as here. Indeed, in some churches the women sat in the north aisle during services. Originally, the aisle was narrow, perhaps slightly wider than the tombstones in the floor and used only for processions. As mentioned elsewhere, the parish wanted more space for its religious practices and by about 1450 the new north aisle was completed. This would have been a little after the completion of the work to the nave roof in the late 1440s.
The whole of the north aisle is now the Lady Chapel, but when the aisle was completed, and a little later modernized, the Lady Chapel was about two bays in depth and probably partitioned or curtained off from the rest of the aisle. Clearly, the aisle is very large, but it was never an empty space. Along its north wall were a number of chapels of one or two bays in width for the religious gilds. Broadly, parish religious gilds provided a kind of spiritual insurance policy by allowing parishioners to pay in whatever they could afford on a regular basis. This money would then be paid out at their death for funeral costs, intercessionary prayers (usually the monks’ task, but too expensive for most), and perhaps a payment to any widow or children. They seem to have worked in a similar way to the co-operatives of later times. So, the outside wall of that aisle would have been taken up by these chapels and the other side given over to icons and shrines to various saints where local people could come in and make offerings at any time of the day. The north aisle really did belong to the parish and was probably rarely quiet.
Looking at the roof the crowned Ms for Maria Regina (Queen of Heaven) remain as a ‘canopy of honour’ in these two bays. It’s possible that the painting survived because of the decay to the chancel and nave pillars in that area at the time of the mid-sixteenth-century Reformation. Still looking up, we see yet another angel roof, although these are of a different nature and are smaller than those of the nave. On the north side, you can see one of them has its paint still. It is difficult for us now to imagine a church where almost every surface was painted, and in colours that we might consider somewhat gaudy.
Across the aisle, the roof holds one of our three anomalies, and we have no explanation for them. Among the angels is a carved figure of a very different sort, and often referred to as ‘the ugly woman’ because the figure appears to have breasts and a pregnant belly. But the hair is short, masculine, and the face seems disfigured, skeletal even. Perhaps this is an image of the decay of death that comes to us all. Yet, it is up there in the heavens with the angels. If you think that you know what it is and what it’s doing there, please do tell us.
The canopy is from 1933. The triptych is in the Arts and Crafts style and considered to be a work of major importance. Designed by architect E.P. Warren, it incorporates plaster panels by R. Anning Bell and paintings by Dacres Adams. It was originally made for St Peter’s church in Lowestoft. St Peter’s was demolished in the 1960s and the triptych was put into storage. In the early 1990s it was repaired, conserved, and installed here by Donald Smith.
We now make our way back up the north aisle towards the west and encounter some of our other artefacts.
It originally hung towards the east end of the nave and was the main lighting until gas lighting was installed in the 1840s. It was a gift from Mrs Elizabeth Hendry in 1712 and made by Charles Peter of London.
We come to our second anomaly, the Maria Regina flint flushwork monogram. It seems to have been rescued from the monastic buildings when the repairs were being carried out to the nave pillars. With great skill the mason had managed to split the stone to insert the monogram. Having gone to all that trouble to do all of this – and the cost of course – unfortunately, the monogram is back to front.
Commissioned on 12 February 1935 at a cost of £23.15s, it was a gift to the church from the Rev. A.M. Rumball designed by J.N. Comper. It is moved to the chancel and lit from Good Friday until Whit Sunday.