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English Church Architecture -



RISBY, St. Giles (TL 802 664)     (July 2004)

(Bedrock:  Upper Cretaceous, Upper Chalk)


The church consists of a short round tower, a long nave with a S. porch, and a two-bay chancel - three sections of the building that are also largely divided on stylistic grounds, the tower being Norman, the nave chiefly Early English (although the porch is a Perpendicular addition), and the chancel, Decorated, as shown in each part by the windows, which are little round-headed openings arranged in no particular order around the top of the tower, mostly Y-traceried in the nave, and reticulated in the chancel. 


The tower (shown left, from the southeast) is unbuttressed and has a tall arch opening into the nave (shown right), of typical Romanesque thickness, with two roll mouldings around it, springing from an order of narrow shafts with scalloped capitals topped by abaci with diapered edges.  High above is a smaller round-arched opening that in the absence of a stair turret  would probably once have given access via a tall ladder to an upper chamber immediately below the bell-stage, while also doubling as a Sanctus bell window that allowed the ringer of the Sanctus bell to follow the progress of the service. More Norman masonry can be seen internally in the nave N. wall, where there are the remains of a round-headed window (now appearing "eye-shaped") above the N. door, and on the E. side of the chancel arch, which has re-used scalloped moulding most incongruously applied to it. 


Otherwise the chancel arch looks like thirteenth century work (pace Pevsner who said it is Decorated), with its acute arch, very slight chamfers on its two orders, and carved abaci, and this is the date of most nave windows, including the lancet to the north (though obviously not the three-light supermullioned window on its left), while other features of the chancel are consistent with the early fourteenth century, of which the best is the three-light E. window, which has large trefoil-cusped, ogee-pointed arches internally on each side that must once have held statues, while a similar arch in the S. wall protects the piscina.  The Perpendicular porch has a four-centred outer doorway and a collar-beam roof, and a cross-gabled nineteenth century N. vestry joins the chancel to the north.


The church contains two series of wall painting, one of the early thirteenth century, now very faded, and one of the late fourteenth, which is slightly clearer.  The first may be seen particularly around the N. door where, with the help of illustrated notes available in the church, a sequence of nativity scenes may be just about made out, depicting the shepherds, Herod ordering the massacre of the Innocents, the flight into Egypt, and the twelve year old Jesus talking to the doctors in the temple.  The second series includes the larger painting to the left, showing Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene (shown left) in the scene known as "Noli me tangere" ("Touch me not").


This leaves some of the church furnishings to describe, which must include above all the rood screen, which to Pevsner was "uncommonly fine" and which Munro Cautley (writing in Suffolk Churches & Their Treasures, Norman Adlard & Co., 1954) considered had been "badly treated".  It is an elaborate affair in three sections, the outer two with three double-trefoil-cusped ogee lights and intricate tracery, and the central section with a triple-cusped, crocketed ogee arch.  It was repainted and gilded in 1966 but is already very worn again.  To either side is a pair of richly-carved niches in the nave E. wall, which are also painted and have crocketed arches, little lierne vaults, and Tudor flower and fleur-de-lys patterning behind.  The pulpit is Stuart and possibly late:  it is carved with the usual round arches but these are somewhat slighter than in typical Jacobean examples.  The font is Perpendicular and has the symbols of the Evangelists carved on four of the eight faces of the bowl.