Fifty-eight parish churches are known to have stood within the walls of medieval Norwich. Despite damage and loss, thirty-one remain today, which is the largest concentration of urban medieval churches north of the Alps.
Researchers in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at University of East Anglia are undertaking a three-year project to explore the development and character of Norwich’s urban and religious landscapes using architectural, art historical and archaeological approaches. The team comprises Principal Investigator Sandy Heslop, Research Associates Brian Ayers, Clare Haynes and Helen Lunnon, and Partnership Coordinator and Cultural Engagement Fellow, Kristi Bain.
Previous research of Norwich’s churches has been limited to studies of individual monuments. In undertaking an exploration of all 58 medieval parish churches, the current research has four main objectives: to increase knowledge of each parish and its church; to explore the relationship between the parish and its social and physical environment; to demonstrate the interaction of parishes and the city; to explicate the aesthetic choices for church buildings and their contents.
Since beginning the project in September 2014, the team has conducted on-site studies of each church and the sites of the lost churches. The research is being informed by archaeological investigation of the standing buildings, assessments of locations and associated topographical features, and fresh approaches to the archival sources. The researchers have to date gathered and analysed information concerning church dedications, locations, orientations, and the boundaries of the parishes, churchyard sizes, patronage, architectural influences and the catalysts for church building and renewal.
The project is also devised to ensure that, through knowledge exchange, the research will enhance awareness and understanding of the churches to aid their preservation and accessibility, ultimately facilitating investment, growth and regeneration to the economy and community. The project provides a paradigm for exploring, analysing and grasping the artistic, cultural, and social importance of medieval parish churches in England and beyond, bringing academic and non-academic impact.
Furthermore, the project has developed partnerships with VisitNorwich, the Norwich Business Improvement District, and the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, to create The Medieval Churches of the Cathedral Quarter – Norwich Walking Trail. This is a resource for individuals to learn more about the history of some of the Norwich churches and how they relate to the city’s identity. The trail has been designed and produced using material from academic researchers, local historians, church tenants and heritage and tourism organisations. It is available to the public through free brochures and the ‘Discover Norwich’ app.
Future plans for the research group here at UEA include an academic conference to be held in early summer 2017 that will be open to a public audience. A major research output will be a two-part publication comprising discussions of Norwich’s medieval parish churches explored through topics including their settings and dedications, the architectural fabric and interior furnishings, changing patterns of patronage, and their post-medieval representation. It is hoped that the visual and written antiquarian histories of the churches will be explored through an exhibition of manuscripts, paintings, drawings, and engravings.
The project’s website incorporates up-to-date research essays on individual churches and news on public events and partnership activities. To find out more about all aspects of the project’s work, visit www.norwichmedievalchurches.org/theproject/.