>Since Karl ragged on the churches of Norwich in the comments to the last post, I feel obliged to stick up for them. First of all, for any of you late medievalists out there, or for those of you who like to visit English cities with lots of well-preserved medieval structures, Norwich is a must-see, especially as it has not yet been overrun by tourists the way York has (though York is also a must-see, tourist crowds or not). I visited Norwich on a sunny August day in 2004 and had a lot of places entirely to myself, including Stranger’s Hall (granted, more early modern than medieval) and the reconstructed cell of Julian of Norwich (rather much larger than I imagine the original to have been). And if you happen to be in Cambridge, it’s an easy train ride from there (about 2 hours, if I recall, and cheap day-returns are available). Also, I will always be fond of a city where I saw the Biggest. Dog. Ever. at the foot of one of the towers of the old medieval wall:
Anyway, back to the churches. I remember reading in one of the guide books that Norwich has the largest number of still-standing medieval parishes of any city in England. And then on top of that there are the rebuilt Victorian gothic churches, as well. The result is that you can stand in the yard of one parish and usually see one, two, or three more from where you’re standing. It gives you a very clear, tangible sense of the closeness and smallness of medieval parishes, and of the religious activity that was necessary to sponsor their existence. In contrast, many parish churches in Norwich today are being made “redundant” — despite existing in a country with a state religion.
I don’t entirely disagree with Karl that the parish churches are all pretty small and dark, but they give a sense of intimacy (and the kind of close community that implies) that cathedrals and mega-churches and the suburban Catholic church I grew up in just can’t do. But the Norwich churches really show you just how wealthy Norwich was in the 15th century. Take a look at St. Peter Mancroft, a parish church on the edge of the market square and near the guildhall, which probably means that its 15th century parishioners included many a wealthy merchant. Below is a picture I took of the interior, but I don’t really do it justice. The home page of the church that I just linked gives more pictures, including one of the exterior that really shows its impressiveness, and you can see a panoramic view here, courtesy of the BBC. Here’s my picture:
Pretty impressive for a parish church. Apparently, many visitors mistake it for the cathedral. Speaking of which, Norwich Cathedral is a wonderful place to visit, too. Though it’s not quite as lovely as York Minster, it does have a fabulous collection of painted ceiling bosses and misericord carvings in the choir stalls. Here are two half-way decent pictures I took of those elements (the bosses are from the cloisters where I could get close to them):
Of course, given English real estate prices these days, I couldn’t afford one, not even with Norwich’s relatively more affordable real estate. So I’ll have to content myself with maybe going back for a visit some day. I’d like to do some easy hiking through East Anglia (it’s very flat, after all) and maybe pop in on Norwich to see the things I didn’t get a chance to visit on my one day there — for instance “Dragon Hall,” a 15th century building and museum of late medieval mercantile life, was closed for renovation when I was there.
So there you go — plenty of reasons to love and visit Norwich! Now, perhaps I should ask the Norwich Tourism Board for an honorarium or something! 🙂
PS – Two more reasons to visit:
1) Streets like these…