Marian tympanum

Ludham, Norfolk

The grand Perpendicular church at Ludham to the north-west of Norwich, has it’s fair share of remarkable treasures, a lovely fifteenth century hammerbeam roof covering the nave a fine early Tudor rood screen with painted panels of saints on the dado, including Henry VI.  He is not that unusual an inclusion as the deposed king had quite cult in the reign of his nephew Henry VII.   The arch above the screen has something more remarkable, a tympanum painted rather crudely with a rood group.

Ludham, Norfolk

The central figure of Christ crucified, who is on a cross decorated with th symbols of the Evangelists, is flanked by various figures.  The usual figures of Our Lady and the beloved disciple are there, but also included St John the Baptist and the centurion Longinus, who is in piercing the side of Christ with his spear.  On either side of the tableau are figures of feathered archangels, both rather chunky and clumsy looking.   The whole thing is supported by rood beam decorated with barber’s pole striping. 

Ludham, Norfolk
Our Lady and Longinus

Ludham, Norfolk
Archangel and Our Lady

Ludham, Norfolk
Our Lord, above he symbol of St John the Evangelist.

Ludham, Norfolk
The winged lion of St Mark.

The tympanum is a rather crude affair, in great contrast to the fine and rather masterly painting of the screen below.   The panel is so clumsy as it was properly hastily painted as a temporary affair.  The dress of the figures and the initials J and B identifying the Baptist, are in a mid sixteenth century font and on that basis it has been suggested that the painting belongs to the reign of Mary Tudor and therefore forms part of the hasty refurbishment of the church for Catholic worship following the destruction of the reign of Edward VI, when the original rood would have been destroyed.   How did it survive the reign of Elizabeth I?  

Ludham, Norfolk

Well if you go the back of the tympanum that becomes clear, the back is now covered with a canvas representation of the royal arms of Queen Bess, which once covered the rood.  Where the people of Ludham hedging their bets, expecting a change of religion once again and the uncovering of their new rood.?  At a later date the whole typanum and the royal arms were taken down and stored in the rood stairs, to be disoverered by an antiquarian society on their annual excursion in the ninteenth century. 

4 thoughts on “Marian tympanum

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  1. A lovely post from Vitrearum after a Summer break. What a very pleasant surprise. It brightened my dark November day. Thank you, Alan.


  2. Thankyou for the fascinating pictures and description.As you say, fairly crude work but still well worth seeing.It really is amazing how many wonderful old churches full of treasures exist in East Anglia.


  3. The panels on the rood screen are superb and evidently unspoiled by Victorian and later re-touches. The right-hand side of the screen (on your linked flickr site, but not here) is interesting for the erasure of St Gregory's tiara and St Jerome's hat (Henrician touches, I suppose) and for the inclusion of the now-obscure St Apollonia, a lady much devalued by modern dentistry.The rood group is a fascinating survival and the Elizabethan arms a striking, impressively-figured, political statement.


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