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The Church of St John the Baptist’s Head, Trimingham
The spireless parish church of Trimingham is called St John the Baptist’s Head. This strange dedication to John the Baptist’s head dates from the medieval period. During this time a life size alabaster head of the saint was kept at the church and pilgrims in this country came to the church to the shrine altar, rather than make the journey to Amiens Cathedral where a relic said to be the real head of John the Baptist was kept.
The alabaster head did not survive and although it is unknown exactly what happened to it, it has been suggested that it was probably destroyed by Anglican reformers as a result of the 1538 Injunction against images during the reign of Henry VIII. Another theory is that the head was destroyed as a result of a further injunction which was rigorously imposed in 1547, during the early weeks of the reign of Edward VI. Today an Alabaster head survives in the Victoria and Albert Museum and it is thought that the head at Trimingham was exactly like the head in the museum collection. To this day, the nearby village hall is called the Pilgrim Shelter as a reminder of Trimingham’s past as a site of pilgrimage.
The church has a short tower which is thought to be unfinished. It has heavy buttresses on the west elevation which suggest that a fault in the construction of the church may well have been the reasoning for the unfinished tower. The nave to the east cuts around the buttress to embrace it. This peculiarity may be partly the result of a restoration by Thomas Jekyll in the 1850s. Pevsner states in his survey book that Thomas Jekyll completely rebuilt the nave of which the most notable feature is the way that the tower buttresses on the east side project into the nave.
The church’s rood screen is very small with four figures on either side of the entrance to the chancel. The figures are St Edmund with his arrow, St Clare with her book and monstrance, St Clement with his anchor and crozier, and St James in his pilgrim’s robes. On the south side are St Petronella with her book and keys, St Cecilia with her garland of flowers, St Barbara with her tower, and St Jeron with his hawk. The east window of the church is credited to H Wilkinson and dates from 1925. The window depicts Christ in Majesty flanked by St Michael and St Gabriel, with the symbols of the four Evangelists surrounding them.
With grateful acknowledgement to the compilers of Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimingham
Alabaster head of St John the Baptist c1440 (by permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
The Carvings of Trimingham Church
A striking feature of our small Church is the carving in high relief by the Reverend Charles Page, Rector of Trimingham from 1909 to 1923. The carving which enriches the Pulpit, the Reredos and the Sanctuary cupboard in the Chancel, the Priest’s seat and the Prayer Desk and four wall panels will repay careful study. They cover a long period of work. His last and it is thought the finest, “The Gethsemane” in the Chancel, was completed in his eightieth year, not long before his death in 1953.
The Reredos in the Chancel depicts the supper at Emmaeus and shows two disciples, believed to be Cleopas and his wife, with our Lord making Himself known in the “Breaking of the Bread”. Over the panel are bread and grapes and a pleasant carving of an Angel. The doors of the Sanctuary cupboard bear the Arms of the Diocese and those of the Duchy of Lancaster, Patron of this Living.
The Pulpit shows Jesus preaching to shepherds, women, children and Priest. The five loaves and two fishes, the fowls of the air, and in the background the sower and a ship on the lake are shown with wonderful clarity.
Reginald Page’s work on the Prayer Desk is especially interesting, with two front panels illustrating the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The desk end facing the Nave shows the Baptism of our Lord by St John the Baptist, with the Dove representing the Holy Spirit and Angels symbolising God the Father. The small detail includes crowds by the Jordan and the castle of Machaerus where St John was beheaded. By an ingenious manipulation the reverse of this carving shows the Legend of St George (modelled on that shown on the Rood Screen) with the maiden chained to a rock. The opposite desk end has a design showing a rose, a thistle and a shamrock.
Of the three Memorial panels in the Nave, the 1914 Memorial depicts a dash across No-Man’s-Land in which Major Lash, the Rector’s brother-in-law, was mortally wounded. The uniforms, equipment and weapons of the day are all carefully executed.
The 1939 Memorial is a modern version of the Good Samaritan story of two soldiers in battle dress tending a wounded comrade, in the background the Samaritan leading the Ass which bears the wounded soldier.
The third panel is a scene from Corfu where the Reverend Page once served. In it can be seen the offering to our Lord in the market place of gifts of fruit and wine.
On the 14th April 1954 Reginald Page’s last carving was installed on the North wall of the Chancel and dedicated to his memory.
You will find further information on Trimingham Church on the History page above, under A Walk Through Time.