Historical Studies

Almost every area of historical study can be enhanced by visiting a church. Such a visit offers primary source material for social history, art history, local history and individual lives, all of which are made more vibrant by on-site experience.

Local history studies, though not statutory, are often carried out at key stages 1 and 2. The units ‘What do we know about our local community?’ and ‘What was it like to live here in the past?’ can be focused on a local church where there are endless clues to previous lives. Gravestones and memorials offer data on average life spans, on infant deaths and losses in war, as well as information about the status, occupations and interests of previous inhabitants. It can be a good idea to draw up a recording form for tabulating information as this is a useful way of directing pupils’ attention. For those planning a graveyard survey it is necessary to have a form for recording each stone. There should be room to record the inscription, details of any decoration, the shape and condition of each memorial and, if possible, the type of stone used. Allow space for drawing which encourages careful observation and will be useful for project work later.  A photographic record is also useful.
Latin was often used in memorial inscriptions, especially before the 18th century and often for people of high status. Some useful phrases include the following:

Learning about a significant local person or event might be based on a single memorial or a group of family memorials. The churches of Norwich offer fine examples which can often be linked to other significant sites. The wall monument to Sir Joseph Paine in the church of St Gregory, for example, has interesting carved references to the Civil War and can be linked to his life as a Royalist supporter and, later, his role as Mayor of Norwich. His residence, Stranger’s Hall, adjoins the church. Another city mayor, Sir John Pettus, is commemorated by a fine memorial in the church of St Simon and St Jude in Elm Hill. He reclines in armour and his son, who died before him, kneels above. Smaller kneeling figures commemorate further Pettus children. Sir John moved from his house in Elm Hill in 1615 to an estate in Rackheath where the parish church contains other memorials to the Pettus family.

At Key Stage 3, ‘Medieval Realms, 1066 -1500, the power of the church’ is a popular unit of study where a site visit to a church is essential. In this unit pupils learn about the medieval church and its impact on everyday lives, about the beliefs of the Catholic Church, the concept of Christendom and the criticisms of it. On site, pupils can be introduced to the significant areas of the church: the sanctuary, the choir and the nave and the functions of each part. They can be asked to consider how the teaching of the church was conveyed through ritual, sermon, chant and prayer and how the message was also brought home through wall paintings and later, window glass. They might be asked to explore the church for Christian symbolism and references to bible stories. The story of the patron saint of the church could be investigated and pupils might look for empty niches that contained statues before the Reformation. The oldest tombs usually belong to clergy or aristocrats. Rich citizens were often prepared to make generous donations to the church for the privilege of being buried inside. Sometimes they had their own side chapel. Ask pupils to look for symbols of office or social position such as a crosier or a coat of arms. Medieval aristocrats sometimes commissioned effigies of themselves in fine clothing and suits of armour. Wealthy Tudor merchants frequently liked to show off their large pious families kneeling in devotion. The period of greatest extravagance in memorial design was probably the eighteenth century when some of the greatest sculptors of the age were commissioned to create fine busts with lengthy eulogies, fine drapery and elegant symbolism.


Churches managed by NHCT are highlighted in in bold below. Click to visit a church.
All Saints Westlegate St. George Tombland St. Julian St. Michael at Plea
St. Andrew St. Giles St. Lawrence St. Peter Hungate
St. Augustine St. Gregory St. Margaret St. Peter Mancroft
St. Benedict St. Helen St. Martin at Oak St. Peter Parmentergate
St. Clement St. James Pockthorpe St. Martin at Palace Plain St. Saviour
St. Edmund Fishergate St. John de Sepulchre St. Mary Coslany St. Simon & St. Jude
St. Etheldreda St. John Maddermarket St. Mary the Less St. Stephen
St. George Colegate St. John Timberhill St. Michael(Miles) Coslany St. Swithin