The Waveney Valley Angel Trail

The late middle ages is so far removed from our own time that it’s difficult to comprehend how our ancestors in those centuries understood and were at home in the world. We have the masterpieces of their literature, their legal records, bits and pieces of their financial exchanges and transactions. Nowhere can we come closer to them, though, than in the buildings they’ve left us, most spectacularly in their churches.

Here in Norfolk and Suffolk, we’re privileged to have arguably the greatest collection of medieval churches in northern Europe, relics of a time when these counties were the wealthiest and most densely populated in England. Each of these buildings has its treasures, but our purpose here is to illuminate one of the most significant aspects of the medieval imagination, the iconography of angels.

Angels are referenced in almost every church in the region, but in creating this ‘angel trail’ we’ve attempted to highlight those with the most imposing concentrations of angel representation, in stone, paint or wood. To this end, we’ve attempted to create a map and guide to each of these churches, connecting them and showing clearly how they can be reached by car, cycle or even on foot, with a description of the angel treasures to be found in each. We hope you will enjoy using it to explore and experience the unique heritage they’ve bequeathed us.


Gissing St Mary the Virgin

St Mary’s Church provides a perfect centrepiece for the village. With its Norman arches, stone niches, splendid double hammerbeam roof, and its fine round tower, which dates from at least the 11th century, Gissing Church is described by some as “one of the best in Norfolk”. The Church is loved by locals and admired by architectural historians and with its angel roof has also been described as a ‘Faberge egg of a church’.

St Mary the Virgin,
Lower St,
Nr Diss
IP22 5UJ

Ordinance Survey: TM 146 855


Opening hours – church is open daily in daylight hours

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

One of the truly outstanding features inside this small church is the magnificent angel roof of the nave, a feature dating to the end of the 15th century. The fashion for installing angel hammerbeam roofs began around 1395 in Westminster Hall in London. Gissing’s roof follows the Westminster Hall style and is different in construction to false hammerbeam roofs where the hammerbeams are solely for show and serve no structural function. True hammerbeam roofs like Gissing, are more common in Suffolk and examples can be found at Stonham Parva, Grundisburgh and Coddenham, (all feature in the Angel trail section of this site).

To find such a beautiful and ambitious roof on a small church such as Gissing is unusual. Our roof was installed in the 15th century to protect the existing Norman walls and it replaces the earlier, steeper roof which may have been thatched.

The nave roof at Gissing is constructed of 7 double hammerbeam English oak trusses forming 6 bays which are decorated with 2 tiers of angels and the lower, wall post carvings which are not always found on churches with angel roofs. Wall post carvings do not follow a standard pattern in all churches and instead depend on the available finances and the scale of the roof. Their presence in Gissing demonstrates the vision and ambition of our roof builders.

The two tiers of angels are a mixture of the original medieval carvings and later Victorian replacements which were installed in 1877. The Victorian angels are larger than their medieval counterparts, they are less well carved and the appearance quite different. The medieval angels probably survived the Reformation for want of a long enough ladder to reach them!

Church Picture


Bardwell St Peter and St Paul

Bardwell Church is a fine Grade I listed flint and stone building that was built in the late C14/ early C15. Although there was probably a Christian place of worship in Bardwell village before the Norman Conquest the first written record of a church is in the Domesday Survey in 1068. This was not the church we see today as it was most likely made of wood or lath and plaster with a thatched roof but it was modestly endowed with 8 acres. There is no documentary evidence to say when the building in Bardwell today was built but the styles employed in its construction give us clues. The lofty narrow nave with its thin walls and matching two-light windows tell us that the building took place from the late 1300's to the early 1400's. The roof is dated 1421. The tower and porch are of about the same date as the nave. The chancel was almost completely rebuilt and its floor lowered in 1853.

St Peter and St Paul,
Church Road,
IP31 1AH


Opening hours –The church is open daily, usually between 10am - 4pm.

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

It has many ‘treasures’, two of which are of national and international importance.
Firstly, the magnificent hammerbeam roof of the lofty nave has its original decorative paint-work. Only four 'angel' bosses remain, which are fitted to the ends of the hammer beams. However, one of these is dated 1421, giving the precise date of the roof.
Our second treasure is a pair of medieval stained-glass windows on the north wall of the nave that shows Sir William de Berdewell (1367-1434), the main benefactor of the church as it exists today.

Church Picture


Coddenham St Mary

St Mary’s Coddenham has Norman origins but its outstanding features, dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries are the splendid flint flushwork with inscriptions (bring binoculars!) and the double hammer beam roof. The magnificent tower of St Mary’s dates from the fourteenth century and by then the plan of the church was much as we know it today. Parts of the building are considerably older, though, and if you look at the chancel from the village side you will see a Norman slit window, showing that this is an ancient wall. In the thirteenth century the lower part of the tower and the basic layout of the present nave and aisles were built, and the chancel extended. The building material included Roman bricks and tiles as well as local flints. Visitors can park in the churchyard.

St. Mary's Church,


Opening hours –the church is open during the day.

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:
The internal glory of St Mary’s is undoubtedly the roof. It is very late medieval, probably 15th century but D.P. Mortlock (author of Guides to Norfolk and Suffolk Churches) thought it might be 16th century. Edward Fernley Bishopp of Ipswich (a 19th century church architect) restored it and it is an unstained double hammerbeam roof, not quite so steeply pitched as is common in Suffolk. Angels gaze down from the darkness. The angels were all renewed in about 1890, the originals having been mutilated, almost certainly in the 1640s.

Church Picture


Cotton St Andrew

The core of the present church dates almost entirely from the 14th century and is situated in a spacious tree-shaded churchyard. This noble building has superb proportions, a fine example of medieval architects’ and stonemasons’ art. The clerestory and nave roof were added during the 15th century and are good specimens of perpendicular architecture. Much of the church is 14th century, and the interior features a very nice 15th century hammerbeam roof with carved angel figures and lacy ornamental decoration. The eastern bay of the roof is boarded up to form a canopy of honour. High winds may mean that the church remains closed for safety reasons.

St Andrew’s Church,
Stonham Road,
IP14 4RG

Website: View our video on

Opening hours –the church is opened every Friday from 10am to 5pm in spring and summer daylight hours and from 10am to 3.30pm in the autumn and winter times. The church can be opened by appointment at other times if required.

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

The nave is crowned by an impressive double hammerbeam roof, carved angels look down from the ends of these beams. The medieval bell tower has no west doorway into the church and can only be accessed by the outside metal gates. The Bell tower has eights bells - only two can currently be rung due to the medieval frame work being unable to accommodate a full peal. (emergency work pending as at early 2018)

Church Picture


Grundisburgh St Mary

In a lovely village green setting near the River Lark, St Mary’s has a stupendous 18th century brick tower in striking contrast to the mellow rendering and fine flint-work of the medieval church itself. You enter through the amazing south tower beneath the 12 bells – there are only two such rings in Suffolk. Light floods into the church from the great west window and the first thing to notice is the fine 15thcentury wall painting of St Christopher, patron saint of travellers. The oldest feature of the church is said to be the 13th century piscina.

We hope that you will enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of this holy place where people have worshipped for centuries. We have set aside a special corner in the South Aisle for private prayer and meditation.

St Mary’s Grundisburgh
The Green
IP13 6NF


Opening hours –the church is open daily

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:


The splendid double hammerbeam roof with its 50 angels is 15th century. Restoration took place in 1888 when some angels were given new heads and wings, as indicated by the brighter woodwork.

East window

Above the high altar, the focal point of the church, is Wyndham Hughes’ 1887 depiction of the Ascension of Christ, installed as part of the general 19th century restoration of the church.

Church Picture


Stonham Parva – St Mary’s (Churches Conservation Trust)

Spectacular and airy, this medieval flint-work church lies behind the village which is referred to as both Stonham Parva and Little Stonham. The church has a tower with parapets accented with slender pinnacles. The nave and chancel are impressively high and inside the double hammerbeam nave roof is a splendid example of medieval craftsmanship. The chancel underwent a restoration in 1886. The old plaster ceiling was replaced with an oak arch-braced roof, with carved saints and angels. The restoration was carried out by Mr G Nevard of Nayland to the designs of the Ipswich architect Edward Fernley Bisshopp.

Church of St Mary the Virgin,
Church Lane,
Stonham Parva,
IP14 5JL

Postcode directs you to the road. There are also brown tourist signs ‘Historic Church’ directing from the A140.


Opening hours –Open daily 10.30-4pm.

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

The Roof Angels

The double hammerbeam nave roof is a masterpiece of the 15th century wood carvers’ craft. Against the wall posts are human figures, seated beneath carved canopies. The carved spandrels beneath the hammerbeams are exquisitely carved with varieties of flowers, foliage, and shields. At the ends of the hammerbeams are tenons, where an array of hovering angels was once fixed. The chancel underwent a restoration in 1886. The old plaster ceiling was replaced with an oak arch-braced roof. This rests upon stone corbels, carved with the emblems of the four evangelists and of Saints Peter and Paul, above which are carved wooden figures of the saints themselves. Between them are angels, bearing shields with the instruments of the Passion; the wide cornices also have two tiers of hovering shield-bearing angels. The roof is studded with bosses, and more angels may be seen near its apex.

The Font Angels

The 15th century font is an unusual variation of the typical East Anglian design. Against its broad octagonal stem are four lions and four buttresses and beneath the bowl are angels with outstretched wings. Carved in the eight panels of the bowl are an Angel with a shield (south); a heart, pierced by a spear and sword and surrounded by a crown of thorns - an emblem of Our Lady (South West); Christ Crucified, flanked by his mother and St John (west); an angel holding a heard (north west); A crowned ‘M’ for Maria (north); a rose (north east); an angel with a shield (east); A crowned ‘M’(south east). The carving of Christ crucified may have been copied from a 12th century example in Norwich Cathedral.

Church Picture


Swainsthorpe St Peter

A Fine Round Tower Church in a Rural Environment Swainsthorpe St. Peter is a round tower church located on high ground in the village centre, where it has been the main focal point since the year 900. It is not only the Saxons represented here but Normans, Stuarts, and the Victorians, who all carried out alterations to “modernize” the building for their time. The church is of architectural importance and grade ll* listed. There were originally two churches in the village, but there is no trace today of Swainsthorpe St Mary near the river, abandoned before the Reformation.

St. Peter’s Church,
Church Road,
NR14 8PH


Opening hours –not known

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

There is a fine 15th century roof over the nave and chancel with angels, albeit with restored wings, holding emblems, such as chalices, harps, crowns, etc., along where the purlins, and the longitudinal beams cross the arch-braced vertical rafters. There is quatrefoil bratticing along and above the wall plates and the wall posts end in wooden heads of men, perhaps prophets or kings and animals, such as lions with their tongues out! The central ridge bosses include dragons and birds with large beaks, possibly pelicans.

Church Picture


Tasburgh St Mary

Tasburgh Church stands within a hillfort which covers 24 acres and it is not known whether the fort dates to the Iron Age or from the Saxon period. It has a commanding view with the land falling steeply to the River ‘Tas’ in the south west. The word ‘Tas’ comes from the Celtic word for ‘water’. The round tower clearly portrays its Saxon heritage! It is thought that the original ancient church was destroyed by the Danes and rebuilt by King Cnut. Of this original rebuild, only the tower and parts of the West wall remain. The round Saxon tower is a distinctive Norfolk feature, probably being round because square corners are hard to achieve satisfactorily with flint. The blind arcading is a special feature of the tower, which now houses 5 bells.
Hillforts are definitely Iron Age structures and not Anglo Saxon. The Anglo Saxons often reused these features, so this could well indicate an early Christian site. It is also very close to Caistor St Edmund, the main Roman town in East Anglia, which altogether indicates a really important site here.

Tasburgh St Mary,
Church Lane,
NR15 1NB


Opening hours –Unknown

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

Between 1897-1922 extensive restorations to the church were carried out by Sir Charles Harvey. He removed the pews, the gallery, the three-decker pulpit, the Elizabethan communion tables, the wooden tympanum of the chancel arch and an unsightly stone and slate reredos. He installed new pews, the current hammerbeam roof and, at his own expense, added the vestry to the south west door. The nave was re-roofed in 1909, is arch braced hammerbeam with carved angels on the hammerbeam ends.

Church Picture


All Saints Thorpe Abbotts

This simple 11th century Church is first mentioned in Domesday, since then it has seen the addition of a medieval round tower, a Tudor porch, and a sympathetic Victorian restoration. Along with its angels it has a beautifully preserved medieval font (one of the best preserved in the region) and two lovely stained-glass windows by Ward and Hughes. Its medieval font and screen are very interesting because it is one of the documented examples of a font being plastered over by the Anglicans in the mid-16th century to hide its Catholic imagery - so much easier and cheaper than having it chiselled off or replacing the whole piece. The Rector of the 1840s saw that it was crumbling, removed the plaster and found wonderful things. Thousands more fonts had suffered the same fate and were similarly revealed.

All Saints Church,
Scole Road,
Thorpe Abbotts,
IP21 2HS


Opening hours –March through to end of September, Saturday/Sunday, and Bank Holidays. Open Churches Week.

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

The Chancel is graced with six 2ft high roof angels which we believe may date from the Victorian restoration by the Rev William Wallace 1840-1860.

Church Picture


Wymondham Abbey – Church of St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury

Wymondham Abbey has been at the heart of Christian worship for over 900 years. Today we look forward as the Church continues to be a place of prayer and worship, a place of pilgrimage for visitors and a place at the heart of our community! We warmly welcome visitors from all over the world, and offer a slice of modernity, peace, and reflection through our new development project.

Wymondham Abbey
Church Street
NR18 0PH


Opening hours –Monday to Saturday - 10am -3pm (October -March) 10am - 4pm (April) and 10am - 5pm (May - September) Sundays - May - September only.

For anything to do with visiting, education, or volunteers:
Learning and Events Coordinator
Telephone: 01953 607062;

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

Wymondham Abbey’s beautiful ceiling is thought to have been completed in the 15th Century. It is home to a host of life-sized (4’9”) carved angels set on the background of intricately carved stars and decorative woodwork dating from the same period. We have a viewing mirror to see the exquisite detail on each, and a full-sized replica on ground level to show you how big each of the angels is!
Wymondham Abbey also has examples of medieval stained glass, displayed as small insets in to the windows along the South Aisle. They accompany seven distinctive Victorian stained-glass windows produced in Norwich workshops between 1839 and 1858.

Important features of the Abbey include the 14th century font with tall pierced cover, the fine 1793 Georgian organ in Chippendale-style case, and the Arts and Crafts triptych in the Lady Chapel. The beautiful new rooms at the east end contain displays of artefacts and documents from the parish archives dating back to medieval times.

A magnificent feature is the gilded altar screen (reredos) designed by Sir John Ninian Comper - an Anglo-Catholic architect and designer - in the Gothic style in 1913 and which depicts Christ in Majesty surrounded by the saints. The reredos was dedicated in 1921 as a First World War memorial.

Church Picture


The steeple of St. Mary’s church dominates the skyline from whatever direction you approach. Our church has evolved over the centuries from its Norman origins and is special because of its magnificent double hammerbeam roof, angel carvings, fourteenth century porch and carved pew ends which makes it one of the finest churches in East Anglia.

St Mary’s Church
The Street
Bury St Edmunds
IP30 9QP


Opening hours –open daily through daylight hours

Notable angel related artefacts, sculpture, and/or stained glass:

The Angel Roof of St. Mary’s, Woolpit is thought to be one of the finest in the country. It is a double hammerbeam type with over two hundred angels carved into its structure, as well as a galaxy of heads, figures, and ornate designs.

Church Picture


Arch braced – an arch having a truss-like framework maintaining rigidity under a variety of loads. This is a true arch as it is fixed or tied at both sides of the base.

Blind arcading – an arcade comprising a series of arches that has no actual openings and that is applied to the surface of a wall as a decorative element.

Canopy of Honour – this is a decorative ceiling, especially over the chancel in a medieval church.

Chancel – a part of the church near the altar reserved for the clergy and choir and typically separated from the nave by steps or a screen.

Clerestory – the upper part of the nave, choir, and transepts of a (typically) large church containing a series of windows

Hammerbeam – a short wooden beam (typically carved) projecting from a wall to support either a principal rafter or one end of an arch.

Lath and plaster – wood strips are nailed horizontally across wall joints or ceiling rafters and plaster is applied across them typically with a wooden board as an application tool.

Nave – the central part of a church building intended to accommodate most of the congregation.

Parapet – a low protective wall along the edge of a roof, bridge, or balcony.

Pinnacles – an architectural ornament originally forming the cap or crown of a buttress or small turret but also used in churches for the corners of towers.

Piscina – a shallow basin placed near the altar used for washing the communion vessels

Purlin – a horizontal beam along the length of a roof, resting on principals and supporting the common rafters or boards.

Quatre foil bratticing – a carved ornament having four foils arranged around a common centre especially used in tracery and usually found at the top of a wall.

Reredos – an ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of the altar.

Spandrels – an almost triangular space between one side of the outer curve of an arch, a wall and the ceiling or framework.

Tenons – a projecting piece of wood made for insertion into a mortise in another piece

Triptych – a picture or relief carving on three panels, typically hinged together and used as an altar piece.

Tympanum – this is a semi circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door, or window, which is bounded by a lintel and arch and often contains sculptures or other imagery or ornaments.