South Creake Lent Array

During Lent in many parts of northern and western Europe, it was the custom for churches to be adorned with what has come to be known in modern liturgical parlance as ‘Lent or Lenten array’ and I have written extensively on the subject in a number of other articles on this blog. From the beginning of Lent, the practice was that altars, reredoses and images in church, were covered completely in hangings and veils of off-white material, which deprived the worshipper of the usual colour and ornament of the church building. For want of a better phrase, these veils and hangings forced upon the people a visual fast – they were forced to do without the familiar symbolism of the church for the duration of Lent.   Quite often the veils, frontals and dossals were stencilled with imagery, that referred to the image that was beneath, or the dedication of the altar – a tantalising hint of what was temporarily lost from view. The tradition of Lent array was well known to nineteenth century ecclesiologists, but it was only in the late ninteenth and early years of the twentieth century, that it came to be revived within the Anglican church, ostensibly under the influence of the Alcuin Club.  Sadly very little Lenten array now survives, it has been more or less systematically replaced year by year by the ubiquitous Purple, which is a shame, as it is a tradition that has a useful symbolic purpose.  Today I would like to share with you one striking example of the Use of Lenten Array from those that survive in use.

The parish church of Our Lady St Mary at South Creake is in north Norfolk, close to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Mostly fourteenth and fifteenth century, it is a handsome and noble structure that was built when this part of Norfolk was prosperous. A succession of rectors in the twentieth century, adorned the church with an eclectic set of furnishings, and modern images of the saints sit amid the old stone and woodwork. The aisles, empty since the Reformation, have been topped with altars to form beautiful chapels and the whole place has an air of continuity, as though the despoliation of the sixteenth century never happened. The church has a full set of Lent Array and from the beginning of Lent each altar and all the images are covered in veils and hangings of stout linen. Some of them have been made for South Creake some have been brought in from elsewhere.

Let’s begin at the east end in the chancel, where the high altar has a Lent frontal made (probably in the 1920s or 30s) by the Warham Guild, the business Percy Dearmer established to make this sort of thing. The frontal is unbleached linen with a fringe of black and red and the motifs on it are stencilled. The stencilling is a striking design – a black lattice is formed from thorn, in allusion to the Lord’s crown; this lattice encloses a series of motifs. Shields charged with Instruments of the Passion in a band, with above and below, alternating stencils of triple nails and triple drops of blood.

South Creake, Norfolk//

Moving west into the nave, we come to the eastern nave altar, which is dedicated to the precious blood.  Here we have a Lenten frontal that was clearly made for South Creake and more recently too.  It’s a bolder composition, but it takes as it’s cue from some of the visual language of the high altar frontal.  A blood red cross fleury is set against a ground of droplets of blood. 

 South Creake, Norfolk//

Into the south aisle and to the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Again the Lenten frontal appears to have been locally made and is not quite so successful a composition I feel.  A central roundel is charged with a winged hear, pierced by a sword – a reference to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a very post-medieval devotion.  In the extreme corners of the frontal are crowned MR monograms, which one cannot help feeling should be slightly larger and more centrally placed.

 South Creake, Norfolk//

Crossing over to the north nave aisle and to the altar of St John the Baptist.  Again a local product I think, perhaps 1930s or 40s and quite charming.

South Creake, Norfolk//

A detailed composition, the Agnus Dei symbol or St John is in the centre, surrounded by eight crosses fleury.  The Agnus Dei is a lovely piece of work, in this case painted on to the cloth, rather than stencilled.  The work reminds me of the work of Enid Chadwick, the artist and illustrator, who did so much work at nearby Walsingham.

South Creake Church, Norfolk//

South Creake does have a banner by Chadwick and though a hunch, I do wonder if this and the frontal in the Lady Chapel are by her.

South Creake, Norfolk//

All the images in the church and there are many, are also veiled, each with an individual linen bag to cover it.  On to these is either painted directly or applied to little panels of linen, the attributes associated with each saint.  These blood red emblems allow the enshrouded figures to be identified.
St George has a handy cross of St George on a shield.

South Creake, Norfolk//

St John the Baptist has the flag of the resurrection, that matches the one held by the lamb of God on the frontal of his altar.

South Creake, Norfolk//

Our Lady has a crowned MR monogram on her veil.

South Creake, Norfolk//

St Margaret has her own image on hers.

South Creake, Norfolk//

My favourite of all has to be the shrine of King Charles I, blessed Charles the Martyr.  His veil has a little block and axe, the instruments of his ‘martyrdom’.

South Creake, Norfolk//

9 thoughts on “South Creake Lent Array

Add yours

  1. Really interesting, thank you. The idea of White is new to me.I grew up to purple hangings (RC), and looked forward to the haunting tone of 'Lumen Christi,'and rthe responce 'Deo gratias'


  2. Thank you, Allan. As I read through, the thought of Enid Chadwick occurred to me before I reached your suggestion. I think that you know that Fr Osman reintroduced such Lenten furnishings at S Birinus, Dorchester about 10 years ago.Simon


  3. What a beautiful practice! You mention in passing in an earlier post that it has medieval origins. Could you discuss at further length the origins and expanse of this tradition? I've only ever known the RC practice of using purple veils for Passiontide, and not for the whole of Lent. Is this (traditional) Roman practice of later origin than doing the whole of Lent? And since you said the practice of veiling for the whole of Lent was across N and W Europe, was it in both the Roman rite north of the Alps, and the Sarum? Thanks so much for your fascinating blog!


  4. Are there any “famous examples” of Lenten array still in England that come to your mind ? Westminster Abbey, St Alban's Abbey, but I wonder if there are any other examples ? We need a gazetteer, but you might be just as good. I wonder if many Roman Catholic churches did or do. St Birinus,Dorchester; but what about St George's,Sudbury (Middlesex) in days of yore ?Thank you for your writing.


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