The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross, Binham was only a mile or so away from where we were staying so the first historical place we visited. The ruins of the 11th century Benedictine monastery are impressive, especially the nave which is now the parish church. The Reformation in 1539 saw the closure of the monastery and the buildings were dismantled. In fact the original building of Hindringham Hall where we stayed (in a cottage, not the actual hall) was built from stone from the monastery!
The most striking feature of the church at Binham Priory is the oddly blocked-up west front and windows which were bricked up between 1738 and 1780. It is an impressive building due to its size and the contrasting brick and stone work. It is also important from a historical aspect as an example of Early English gothic architecture in the 13th century. The west window (top) is thought to be an early example of ‘bar tracery’ in England. It certainly is very beautiful. In the spandrels and heads of the arches a variety of patterns are pierced into the stonework: quatrefoils, cinquefoils, trefoils and sexfoils, culminating in the octofoil at the head of the west window.
Foil = Lobe or leaf shape formed by joining of curved shapes in tracery: trefoil (three), quatrefoil (four), cinquefoil (five), sexfoil (six), octofoil (eight)
Inside the church is light and bright. The font is perpendicular – 15th century – and has eight sides. It is known as a Seven Sacrament font because of the carvings around the bowl, each one of which illustrates one of the sacraments of the church. This is a particularly East Anglian design and none are known elsewhere; there are 16 in Norfolk and 12 in Suffolk remaining. It would have been brightly painted.
The Poppy Head Pews are another interesting feature of this church. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the benchends became more elaborately carved, with panelling and figures of people or animals, often humorous and frequently decidedly secular. Not all benches had backs to them (as in Cawston Church, Norfolk) and those which did had simple designs, some of which were added at a later date.
There are two misericord benches at the east end of the church decorated with a bearded head and foliage and the remains of the former rood screen which was painted over after the Reformation. The original medieval painted saints are now showing through.
In a beautiful quiet corner of the North Norfolk countryside, only a few miles from the coast, this former priory and church are well worth a visit and I was very impressed by the small museum inside and the information panels.