When Henry VIII (1491-1547) declared himself head of the English Church deposing the pope; he closed all monasteries, known as the Dissolution of the monasteries. In 1538, Wymondham’s monks surrendered to the king’s supremacy, and the abbot became the vicar. Their part of the church was demolished along with the other monastic buildings and today only the parish church survives intact.
We enter through the Great West Doors and see the interior in all its glory. Taking a moment to fully appreciate the grandeur bestowed upon this rural town, we move into the nave. Standing in the middle of the nave, the oldest surviving part of the church, you can look east at one of the newest parts: the altar screen or reredos, which we will look at in detail a little later. For now, we can focus on the beauty and elegance of the Norman Romanesque architectural style and recognize its classical echoes. The typical rounded arches of the arcades, above and at ground level, speak of their love of decorative geometrical perfection and classical design.
The church was a grand stone structure used by the small community of monks and also by parishioners. There were disputes over the use of the western end of the church (the nave and chancel as they are now), which were resolved in 1249 when the pope ruled that the eastern end (the monastic church) and south aisle were to be used by the monks, and the western end and north aisle were for the use of the parish.
Over the centuries, the church saw many changes. New towers were built, the nave roof was raised to accommodate a new clerestory (a windowed raised level of the roof) with a magnificent angel roof, and the parish’s north aisle was widened and modernized in the Gothic style with another hammer beam roof c.1430. But about thirty or forty years earlier, when the new east tower was completed separating the eastern and western ends of the church, the arcade on the southern side of the nave was blocked up completely severing the connection between the parish and the monastic churches. As mentioned in the section about the ruined tower, the two doors visible below the reredos gave the only access between the two parts and only the prior had the key.
As mentioned, the nave has lost its original aisles, clerestory, and two western towers. At approximately 150 feet (45m) long, it is longer than the naves of Thetford, Castle Acre, and Binham priories, which are all over 30 feet (9m) shorter. In about 1395, following the completion of the new east tower, two bays on the south side of the Norman clerestory were replaced with large windows matching those in the tower to illuminate what became the parish chancel after the monks had blocked up the south arcade shutting out the light.