St Michael at Plea

The tower and porch are a prominent City landmark, best seen from St Andrew's Street to the west  and from Bank Plain to the south. Since it was built in C 1 4th/1 5th there have been major changes to both the building and its setting: the tower was originally a storey higher while the view from St Andrew's Street dates only from 1900 when a new tram route was cut between St Andrew's Plain and Bank Plain. Since becoming redundant in the 1960s the church has been used as an antiques shop and an antiquarian book dealer's. It is currently let as an SPCK bookshop and café

Exterior

The churchyard is high above the path due to centuries of burials. The two storey porch is impressive: unlike most Norwich porches the facing is all stone. There are carvings of the Archangel Michael and the Dragon over the doorway and a 'flushwork' frieze above with crowned 'M's (for Michael). The niche and statue of the Archangel above are late Victorian and replaced a sundial. The top of the porch is disappointingly plain, but the 'ghost' of a more elaborate parapet can be seen in the much-eroded stonework on the right hand (east) return wall.

The Tower was given a castellated parapet and very tall corner pinnacles in the late 19th century after the earlier removal of the top storey: the pinnacles give the tower a memorable silhouette. Every visitor to Norwich recalls the clock, with its reminder not to forget the passing of time.
The Nave of the church is faced with flint, but the high plinth is entirely of stone but encrusted with soot. Notice the elaborate carving, made up of quatrefoils, shields, roses and narrow niches, all deeply recessed to contain shaped flints, now almost all gone. Norwich is famous for its 'flushwork' decoration of stone and flint, but no other flushwork has the deep modelling seen here: it must originally have been very impressive. It continues round the Nave, North and South Transepts and the South Chancel Aisle, an indication that these parts of the church were all erected as part of one continuous and quite lavish, building programme. The style of the plinth decoration, the window tracery (which shows a similar consistency) and the Porch all suggest a date somewhere during the late 14th or more likely early 15th centuries.
The Chancel is older than the rest of the church. It has no plinth and the walls are rougher and more uneven than elsewhere. But the main clue to its date lies on the far (north) side where there is one window with 'Y' tracery (which can best be seen from inside). This suggests a date somewhere in the 13th century.

Interior

On the original roof of the Nave, angels, re-coloured in the 19th century, adorn the ridge and other points of the timber structure. Notice the elegant Perpendicular style of the arched openings into the two side Transepts. The fine Chancel screen is relatively modern (1907): some of the details are reminiscent of the carved decoration on the door through which you have just entered.
The font is late Medieval with simple decoration, but it boasts a spectacular cover dating from the 17th century and in a 'free' classical style, replete with columns, an open double-curved 'canopy' and a tall hollow obelisk on which sits a dove, representing the role of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Another smaller obelisk adorns the lid of the font.

On the wall behind the font is an unusual wall monument. Its twin panels are angled to fit the wall. The panels are inscribed in black line : on one an inscription commemorates Jacques de Hem (1603), perhaps a refugee from Flanders: on the other he is pictured kneeling, with his wife and large family, before an altar over which floats a chalice. Above the panels a single pediment is inscribed with skull, crossbones and spade. The inscribed drawings are naive and charming.

In the Chancel, notice first the style of the window in the north wall (left), with its simple 'Y' tracery indicating an earlier date for this part of the church. The later, Perpendicular style, of arches and window in the Chancel means they must be later insertions. The Chancel roof is late Victorian. Fragments of medieval stained glass have been set as a panel in the east window.
If you now turn round and return into the Nave, you will get a good view of the tall arch leading into the Tower and of the balustrade bridge under which you first entered the church. Notice the two oil paintings on either side of the arch: they are of Moses and Aaron and were once part of an altar piece.


Late 19th Century Restoration

A framed notice in the Porch gives details of the work carried out in 1887. It was clearly in tune with the times, with its emphasis on the revival of an altar-based liturgy. The work included removing a partition separating Chancel from Nave and inserting new windows in the Transepts 'in harmony with the building'. Box pews were replaced by chairs and the angels in the roof were gilded. To crown the work an altar piece was made from some precious 14th century panel paintings which were found 'hanging on rusty nails'. This can now been seen in the Cathedral.

Stained Glass

To see magnified pictures and information on all the stained glass in this and other churches across Norfolk visit www.norfolkstainedglass.co.uk

 

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