St Swithins Church Frettenham

Welcome to St Swithins

The parish Church of Frettenham

A warm welcome awaits you at Frettenham Church

Details of all services and church events are published in the
Frettenham Village Newsletter

A short History of St Swithins Church

Compiled by Richard Butler-Stoney

The church has a most distinctive feature in its clerestory windows, which gives the clue to dating the whole church. They are quatrefoil windows set within circles and there are four on each side. These are a speciality of the Decorated period around 1320-1349. Later clerestory windows were usually larger.

The two aisles were added with the clerestory and have quatrefoil piers with slim filleted shafts in the diagonals, a motif repeated in the outer arch of the porch and in the chancel arch.

The tower has belfry openings with decorated period reticulated tracery, being part of the same building campaign. There are attractive square sound-holes in the middle stage. Bequests for the tower in 1460-62 and 1482 were for repairs and improvements. The parapet was added in 1672, and the west window in the 19th century. There are 5 bells for full circle ringing. A small access door on the east face of the tower is now above the nave ridge. This indicates that the nave roof originally had a steeper pitch to come above this little door which could have been used for ringing the sanctus bell.

The chancel was entirely rebuilt in 1869 by the Revd. James Shirley, with R.H. Phipson as the architect. The rebuilding is recorded on a foundation stone below the chancel piscina. The outside is distinctive with the use of black knapped flints, but not squared flints like the porch.

3 scratch dials can be found on the porch. There are two on the south east quoin and one small one on the south west quoin. These were sundails to indicate the times of services in medieval times.

An obelisk west of the porch is the war memorial for this parish. East of the porch is a broken fluted column symbolising a promising life cut short, which refers to the 29 year old Walter Painter who died in 1887.

Inside the church

The font is typical of the 13th century. It predates the rest of the building and tells of the earlier church on this site. It is made from Purbeck marble with shallow arches cut on each side. The base has been renewed.

Consecration crosses on the north and south walls were scribed in the plaster when these walls were first built and it is remarkable how much plaster has been added to the walls since then.

A black letter text has been discovered on the plaster near the entrance door. Such texts were common in the 17th century and often took the place of earlier paintings. So far it has not been deciphered, but it is likely to be biblical.

The glazing of the Victorian chancel windows have Christian emblems in a modern style, such as the Agnus Dei and the keys of heaven. The shape of the windows is accentuated by the use of strong bright colours. The west window of the south aisle was glazed with an interpretation of "The Good Shepherd" in 1922.

THe east window glazing was designed and made by workers of the Manpower Services Commission, who restored this church during the 1980s. It illustrates the victory over death at Christ's resurrection. The eye at the top represents God the Father overseeing the events. On the left is a skeleton for death and on the right the angel who rolled away the stone. Note the discarded cross and the keys of heaven.

The medieval glass is now set in the chancel south window. Its style suggests a date in the middle of the 14th century. The angel on the right with nimbus and hand raised in a commanding manner is Gabriel. He also holds a scroll:- "ave gracia plena do(minus)". The other figure has been restored as an angel facing the other way, but it could possibly have been the Virgin Mary originally. The canopy work from the tops of the main lights are glazing from the same period. Foliage is surrounded by a border of alternate castles and pieces of ruby glass an the left.

7 benches in the north aisle have very thick plank seats but no back rests. They have poppy heads at one end whch have a small hole in the top to take a pricket light. The rest of the church was reseated in 1906 with a new pulpit, reading desk and altar provided by the wife of a former rector.

A tall niche near the blocked north doorway remains a mystery. It could have taken an image of St Christopher. Now we have a modern painting of St Christopher carrying a child on his shoulder as he strides through the water with a strong staff. He is the patron saint of travellers.

St Swithin's story is told in wall paintings around the east window arch in the south aisle. Starting at the top left side we see (1) his enthronement as Bishop of Winchester in 882. (2) at the top right he is teaching Prince Athelwolf. (3) middle left he mends the widow's eggs broken by a careless knight. (4) middle right shows his burial. (5) bottom left exhuming his body 100 years later, which is accompanied by rain for 40 days. (6) bottom right his shrine in Winchester cathedral. Across the bottom are the various grades of medieval society who all have to face death, that great leveller of mankind

The colourful roundel in the north aisle window has a shield for St Swithin with 3 red apples and the heavy rain drops, dated 1984. This refers to the folklore that the 40 days of rain following a wet St Swithins's Day, July 15th , gives you a crop of large juicy apples. There are only four churches dedicated to St Swithin in Norfolk.

The monumental brasses:- 1. Alys Brunham, c.1420 on chancel floor north side. A London brass, poorly engraved, but showing her with a heart shaped head dress and hands together. 2. Margaret Seynclowe (nee White), 1435, now reset in the sedilia. She wears a padded head dress and an embroidered gown. Her inscription is also reset there. 3 Richard Woodes, 1620, discribed as "having continued a paynefull and profitable minister unto this parish 48 yeares".