the Conqueror, even before he set sail for England in 1066, had
managed to convince the Pope that the invasion was not for his own
gain, but was to be something of a crusade, to bring the English
people back to the true church of Rome, instead of the beliefs of the
Celtic church to which many belonged. He was supported in this action
by his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was later
responsible for making the Bayeaux Tapestry. Odo was a soldier/bishop
who fought valiantly at the Battle of Hastings, and was created the
Earl of Kent.
Pope was anxious to bring the English Church into line with that on
the continent. He wanted to enforce celibacy in the clergy, to bring
the cathedrals into cities and to formalise the church ritual and
Holy Days. William of Malmesbury wrote at the time that the Celtic
missionaries 'preferred to bury
themselves ingloriously in
marshes, than dwell in lofty cities'. This certainly was not the
view of the Norman conquerors, who liked tall stately buildings which
showed off their importance and thus used the finest materials and
craftsmanship. At the Council of London in 1075, the Bishops decreed
that the dioceses should be administered from cities and in the
process the Bishop at Thetford transferred to Norwich.
the next century, besides the building of great abbeys and
cathedrals, the pre-conquest parish churches which were made of wood
were largely rebuilt in stone, and as the 11th century chronicler
Raoul Glaber wrote 'it was as though
the very world had shaken
herself and cast off her old age, and was now clothing herself in a
white robe of new churches'.
old Saxon church at Halesworth was certainly partially rebuilt in the
12th century, for the foundations of a round tower of that period
were found near where the present font stands, during the 19th century
restorations. It was probably similar to the round tower at
Wissett, Holton or the free-standing tower at Bramfield when it was
built, but all that was swept away when the new church was built in
the 14th century. Few churches in Suffolk have not been restored and
little Norman work remains, although over 80 churches have kept their
Norman doorways, with local examples at Holton, Spexhall, Walpole,
Sibton, Rumburgh, the four Elmhams of St.Cross, St. Margaret, St.
Michael and St. Peter, and particularly fines ones at Wissett.
Norman Chancel ruins outside Orford Parish Church give us some idea
of the Norman style, which was called Romanesque, as it resembled the
remains of Roman buildings on the continent. It can be recognised by
the half-round window, door and arcade arches, and the massive walls
with which these churches were built. The semi-circular arches were
usually decorated with elaborate patterns known as mouldings, and
often the huge cylindrical pillars are deeply carved. Some early
Norman churches have tunnel vaults as roofs, such as the Chancels at
Fritton (near Bungay) and at Fritton (near Yarmouth). In some of the
smaller parish churches, such as Wenhaston, the small angled Norman
slit window can be still seen.
feature of Norman churches in East Anglia is the number of round
towers which can be found, more so than in any other part of the
country. There are 41 in Suffolk and 129 in Norfolk, with local
examples at Holton, Wissett, Bramfield and Theberton. The tower at
Spexhall looks Norman, but it was rebuilt in 1910. These towers were
built in a round shape because of the lack of building stone in East
Anglia, which is necessary to build the corners of a square tower in
order to strengthen it. There is also a theory that they follow the
line of the rivers, and were used as look-out posts and as defensive
towers in which the people could shelter in time of trouble. Few
square Norman towers exist in this area, there is one at Rumburgh
church which was originally a Priory, founded in 1065, with the tower
built in the 13th century.
finest example of Norman church architecture in this part of East
Anglia is at Norwich. It is the Cathedral which, although it has a
later spire and chancel, is pure Norman.