The Chancel: Anglo-Saxon features and a curious opening.

With the wonderful Anglo-Saxon tower being so prominent at Forncett St Peter, we sometimes forget to see what other stories the fabric of the church can tell. And yet, there are some curious things we can see in the chancel walls – we only have to look a bit more attentively!

On both north and south sides of the chancel, the typical late Anglo-Saxon ‘herringbone’ flintwork pattern stops just west of the easternmost window and short of the eaves at the top. This, most likely, indicates the possible extent of the original chancel – it was definitely lower and shorter than the present one. It is difficult to tell what shape the east end of the chancel would have looked like. It probably would have been either square or apsed; these types in the earlier Anglo-Saxon period were distributed regionally, with a preference for square chancels in the northern regions and for apses in Kent and Essex. Unfortunately, we don’t know enough of the shape of late Anglo-Saxon chancels in East Anglia to even make a guess!

Saxon Herringbone flintwork Chancel 11 08 20 Photo A Rae 14smHerringbone flintwork, North wall of the chancel. Photo: A Rae

The original Anglo-Saxon chancel was evidently extended up and eastwards, possibly in the 13th-century when the priest’s door on the south side was created, although the 15th-century windows, contemporary with the extension of the main body of the church, which included new aisles and the clerestory, may indicate that the chancel was enlarged at the same time.

Mysterious opening Photo A Moskvina smThe blocked opening. Photo: A Moskvina

 On the south side of the chancel, the Anglo-Saxon flintwork is interrupted by a curious blocked opening, just above the priest’s door. The opening is most likely a window and is likely to have been blocked when the priest’s door was installed. It is quite difficult to find a comparison for it, because preserved Anglo-Saxon windows tend to be in towers (for example at Earls Barton or Barton-on-Humber) or, if they are in the side walls, in much earlier churches not really suitable for comparison (for example, Jarrow or Escomb). A comparable example is found in Bradford-on-Avon, where the double-splayed windows of similar shape and size are a late Anglo-Saxon alteration of the earlier, most likely 8th-century, work.[1] It is interesting that parallels between this church and two other late Anglo-Saxon churches in Norfolk – at Dunham Magna and Tasburgh - have been suggested, so there are reasons to think that there could be similar stylistic connections with Forncett too.[2]


[1] Taylor, H.M., and J. Taylor. 1965. Anglo-Saxon Architecture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 87.

[2] Ibid., pp. 88-89.


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