12th Century Church Gutted by Fire Leaving Locals Devastated
The local community is shocked by the scale of the damage. Although some of the building survived the blaze and a number of historic items were rescued, the roof, pews, altar and most of the interior were destroyed.
The fire broke out at St. Mary, the Virgin Church in Wimbotsham, near Downham Market, in Norfolk, England. It appears to have started in the morning of the 4th September. Jane Neil who lives nearby smelled smoke and left her home to see if there was a fire.
Fighting the Blaze of the Historical Church
Nine fire tenders (water tankers) arrived at the scene and some 55 firefighters from the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service fought the fire. When they arrived, they found that the fire had spread and that the roof was ablaze.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service fighting the fire at the medieval church. (Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service / Facebook)
Despite the efforts of the firefighters, the church was badly damaged. However, they were able to save parts of the building, including the chancel. The Metro reports “the historic bell tower still stands”.
Yet, what was not burned down has been badly damaged. The BBC reports Norfolk Fire Department Station manager Terry Pinto as stating that “We have been able to save some of the building through early intervention but it is a very sad day”.
The Medieval Church was Built in the 12th Century
It was renovated in the 19th century with much of the original structure retained. The south and the north entrances are believed to have been built during the Norman era.
They were also able to save the “church silver kept in a safe in the vestry”, reports Lynn News. However, despite the brave efforts of the firefighters much has been lost and the ornate interior of the church has been gutted.
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The ornate interior of the medieval church was gutted by the fire. (Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service / Facebook)
Lost Treasures from the Medieval Church Fire
An altar that dates to the 17th century has been completely destroyed. So too has a wooden door that is believed to date to the Norman period. Many of the wooden pews which were “decorated by intricate carved figures and animals” reports Eastern Daily Express, have also been burned to ash.
They were carved, in 1853, by James Ratee a renowned woodworker, whose work can be found in Westminster Abbey. A medieval mural, depicting St. Christopher, in the nave of the church is also believed to have been lost in the blaze.
Picture from 2016 of one of the ornate pews of St Mary the Virgin Church in Wimbotsham. One of the wooden figures carved by James Rattee in 1853. Picture: Simon Knott
St. Mary, the Virgin Church in Wimbotsham is part of the Church of England Diocese of Ely. Anglican services were regularly held in the church. It is expected that the congregation will attend other churches in the area. The church was generally open to the public and anyone could visit the historic building.
Community Shock at the Destruction of the Medieval Church
The local community is in shock at the fire and everyone has some connection with the church. Many local people regard the building as a symbol of the village and even its heart. All the villagers’ important life-events, such as deaths, births, and marriages were celebrated in St. Mary, the Virgin.
The beautiful St. Mary, the Virgin Church before the fire. (John Salmon / CC BY-SA 2.0)
There are hopes that the church can be rebuilt. However, it is believed that rebuilding the historic building will be incredibly expensive and take some time. The Fire Service is continuing to investigate the scene to determine the cause of the blaze.
Top image: The blaze at the medieval church in Wimbotsham. Source: Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service / Facebook.
By Ed Whelan