St Mary's Church

 

Whereas the area of the Boneyard/Reeddam excavation to the south of the river represents the location of the early medieval settlement, the church of St. Mary the Virgin, to the north of the river, became the focal centre of Sedgeford in the later medieval period and has remained so ever since. The pursuit of evidence to elucidate this apparent shift in the settlement focus remains one of the primary research objectives within the SHARP project as a whole and forms an intrinsic part of the research at the church, particularly with regard to its

foundation date.

The 1999 season saw the conclusion of the first phase of recording the building’s fabric, begun in 1996, and the substantial quantity of data gathered are currently being prepared for publication. Over the years many different approaches to the task of recording have been investigated - archaeological, architectural, photographic and art-historical - all of which have been combined with study of the existing historical documents to produce a picture of the development of the building from its earliest phases through to the present day.

To date, the floor plan and exterior of the building have been recorded at a scale of 1:50 and the interior studied in great detail, using a combination of measured sketches, scale drawings, photographs and written descriptions to record its features. Through this work over four hundred and fifty individual building elements have been identified and interrelated to create a detailed picture of the building’s structural history. In addition, to complement the work on the building itself, a contour survey of the surrounding graveyard has also been conducted and the inscriptions of the extant gravestones systematically recorded, with a view to creating a computer database.

Once the initial analysis of the church itself is completed, an attempt must be made to place the building in its proper context. We know that the church was once a Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral and undoubtedly a closer analysis of the links between the two institutions will shed more light upon the history of the building and the development of the village. On a broader scale, a comparison between the development of Sedgeford church and Dean and Chapter’s other Peculiars would also be of benefit, perhaps allowing signs of stylistic diffusion or the work of a single architect to become apparent.

Ultimately, one must not lose sight of the fact that although St. Mary the Virgin is the only church in the parish of Sedgeford and has been thoroughly studied, it is only one of many within the wider ecclesiastical system and that the search for answers must be broadened beyond the individual building if the role of the church within the village is to be
fully understood.