St Catherine, Ludham, Norfolk

Ludham is a large Broadland village, with a 14–15th c. church at its centre to match. The church has one of the finest painted medieval roodscreens in East Anglia, and that is saying something. It must have been difficult not to believe in the Communion of Saints when a group of them was in your face every Sunday.

They were painted upon the screen between about 1490 and 1510, a mixture from the very earliest days of the Church (Mary Magdalene, Stephen), via the 3rd c. martyrs Apollonia and Lawrence, to the bang-up-to-date Henry VI, never canonized, but widely venerated in East Anglia. The Four Latin Doctors (Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory) counterbalance saints of England (Edward the Confessor) and the locality (Walstan and Edmund).

The surviving screen was once part of something bigger, but as elsewhere it has lost the rood and associated figures, as well as the roodloft. The rood was lost once before, during the reign of Edward VI, and so during the restoration of Catholic life under Mary it was replaced. As a hasty, temporary, measure, until they could get a proper painted and carved rood group erected, the parishioners of Ludham painted the rood group on a tympanum.

In addition to the usual figures of Mary and John, together with two angels, they included the Roman figures, Longinus with his spear and Stephaton with the vinegar-soaked sponge. Then Mary died and the parish erected the Royal Arms of the new Queen, Elizabeth. The painted rood was covered up, then stored away, to be rediscovered in the 19th c. and put back facing the nave, with the Elizabethan arms facing the altar. A unique survivor.

We have the same choice today as our 16th c. predecessors had – God or Caesar.

Pray: ‘Almighty God, make us unafraid to stand for Your truth,
when popular wisdom is opposed to Your law.’

Map reference: TG388183

Simon Cotton