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An Indulgence

Article two in the St. Nicholas Loop

Gleaner's Bell

The question is sometimes asked-How old is the Church? or When was it built? and it is by no means an easy question to answer. Take for instance Feltwell St. Nicholas, we know that a Church was standing there before the Norman Conquest because of a small pillar, or pilaster, at the East End which is of Saxon work and part of the old Saxon Church. When the Normans came they pulled down the Saxon Church and rebuilt it according to their idea of Church building. This was done in numbers of cases and so far as St. Nicholas 'is concerned they were not long in doing it. The Norman Conquest was A.D. 1066 and the fine Norman Arch at the West End of the Church was built, according to expert opinion, A.D. 1072. The Norman Church of St. Nicholas, as first built, was not large, and could have seated a very limited number, had seats then been in use; there was the Nave only, no Side-Aisles, and there was the Chancel which I am told was taken down by the late Canon Sparke. During the 15th Century, i,e., A.D. 1400 to A.D. 1500, the Side-Aisles were added owing no doubt to increase of population. The building of Side-Aisles would of course darken the Church considerably and to overcome the difficulty of light, the Clerestory was added. The Clerestory is the story immediately above the Nave with its two rows of windows; one row looking North, the other South. So in answering questions about the age or the building of the ancient Church of St. Nicholas, Feltwell, one has to take into consideration that there is Saxon work, Norman work, and work of the Perpendicular Period, or Style, of Architecture; each with its own date.

An interesting feature is the stone bench running the length of the wall in the North Aisle. Lamborn, in his book on Parish Churches, says that originally the Aisles and Nave were clear of all seats except a few stone benches round the walls for the infirm. In fact these stone benches, as at St. Nicholas, are the origin of the saying- "The Weak to the Wall." People came to Church to worship God and either stood or knelt. Seats were occasionally provided for women and were looked upon as a rare luxury; but they came into more regular use at the end of the 15th century when the sermon became an important part of Divine Service.

On the outside of the building, in large letters, are the names of John Do and Thomas Deye, benefactors to the Church, as well as other devices in stone; the device on the extreme right is from the Coat of Arms borne by the great Earl Warren who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. He married Gundred, the fifth daughter of the Conqueror and owned the greater part of Feltwell. His Coat of Arms in heraldic language, is Checky, Or and Azure; in other words, squares such as are seen on chess or draughts boards, coloured gold and blue alternately. And so far as one can judge, the device on the wall of the Church was at one time so coloured, which must have been most effective.

Earl Warren built his castle at Weeting and died A.D. 1089; his wife having died three years before him. In 1845 the leaden coffins containing the actual bones of Earl Warren and Gundred his wife were discovered side by side. A slab to her memory still exists which ends up be saying – "The sixth of the kalends of June, a hostile day, shivered the alabaster of her flesh."

In looking at St. Nicholas Church, with its Norman and Saxon work, the thought arises-How long has a Church stood there ? An interesting suggestion has been made about the origin of Parish Churches. In the days of long ago, when missionaries were sent to convert England to Christianity, a missionary would choose a suitable spot, erect a Cross, and there in the open preach the Gospel. As time passed the missionary built a shelter in which to administer the Sacraments. Later on, his converts built a shelter on to it for themselves, in which to worship. And this, it was suggested, is the origin of the old Saxon Church with its Chancel and its Nave. And one likes to think that quite possibly, in those days of long ago, a missionary came and set up a Cross on the hill where St. Nicholas Church now stands, and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that there, on the actual spot where he placed the Cross, a Church has stood ever since.

I. H. S.

On several headstones in the Churchyard is the sacred monogram I.H.S., and there appears to be a doubt as to the actual meaning of these letters. They are sometimes explained as the initial letters of Jesus Hominum Salvator, i.e., Jesus Saviour of Men; or as In Hac Salus, i.e., In this (Cross) is Salvation. I have even heard them explained as I Have Suffered. But, beautiful as these explanations may be, they are not correct. I.H.S. or I.H.C. as it is also written, is the abbreviated form of the Holy Name of Jesus in Greek. Another monogram commonly used in the early days of Christianity was XP, the first two letters of the name Christ in Greek. This-monogram is generally found with the P standing within the X, and when placed over a grave signifies "In Christ" or "Asleep in Christ;" and so I.H.S. on a headstone signifies that the person buried below is asleep "In Jesus." One of the oldest signs or symbols used for Christ was the Fish, because the Greek word for Fish contains the initial letters of "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour." In the days when being a Christian meant death, a follower of Christ, when speaking to a chance acquaintance would, as it were carelessly, draw a fish with his stick on the ground; or would use the word in some such way that the person spoken to would recognise the sign, if a Christian; but if riot, would fail to notice anything unusual.


A forty-days Indulgence was granted in the year 1494 to all who should contribute to the recasting of the Bells and the, rebuilding of the Church and Bell-tower of Feltwell St. Nicholas, which had been greatly damaged by fire. An Indulgence, according to a dictionary of 1759 was a pardon for sin and sometimes so extensive as to be for the past, present and the future, written on parchment and sealed and signed by the Pope or his delegate. The Indulgence for St, Nicholas Church was granted by John Alcock, Bishop of Ely, 1486-1500, who was Chancellor of England, but is remembered chiefly as Founder of Jesus College, Cambridge. He was a man known for holiness of life. He was known also for the length of his sermons and was spoken of at Cambridge University, with no great affection, as a member of the family of Spin-texts. At times he would preach for two solid hours on end.


In former days when fields were gleaned, the St. Nicholas Church Bell was rung each day at 8a.m. and 6 p.m. It was known as the Gleaners' Bell and no gleaning was allowed before the morning bell or after the evening bell. People would assemble on the green in front of St. Nicholas Church in readiness for the morning bell.  ARVD

In the appropriate season, this bell was tolled twice a day to let the villagers know when they were permitted to start (and finish) gleaning their corn from the fields. For each year from 1850/1857, receipts signed by Henry Rudland, show that he was paid úl per annum for tolling the Gleaners' Bell. The last person known to have tolled this bell for 6d a day, was Miss Nellie Beamis when she was a young girl. She died in 1966 at the age of 87.  AJO

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