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The Cawston Rood Screen Guide



The Cawston Rood Screen St Agnes’ Church in Cawston possesses one of the finest surviving rood screens not only in East Anglia but Europe -wide. The screen is notable as an example of carving and painting, which retains a lot of its upper tracery and also has twenty figure panels along the dado. Cawston’s screen is especially important because will bequests at various dates attest to its construction and decoration over an extended period which tells us a lot about how rood screens came to be made and decorated. Cawston is one of the few Norfolk and Suffolk screens to retain glass decoration on the front of the mullions. It is also highly unusual in that the last six figures on the south side are cut‐outs, painted on parchment rather than on the wood.

St Agnes The symbols of St Agnes are a sword and a lamb, a play on the Latin word Agnus which means sheep. St Agnes is thought to have been brought up as a Christian in Rome around 300AD. At the age of thirteen Agnes refused to marry the son of the Prefect and was brought to trial for being a Christian and sentenced to death. When she was tied to the stake the bundles of wood could not be lit so her head was cut off with a sword. Cawston’s screen depicts St Agnes with a sheep.

St Helena St Helena of Constantinople is depicted on the Cawston screen wearing a crown and holding a cross. St Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great who converted the Roman Empire to Christianity. St Helena is said to have discovered the true cross. One tradition has it that Helena was the daughter of King Coel of Colchester, Old King Cole, who made an alliance with Constantine the Great’s father to avoid war between Britain and the Romans.

St Thomas St Thomas was one of the twelve apostles. Famous for having doubted Jesus’ resurrection when he was told about it, Thomas travelled widely to preach the gospel. There is a tradition that St Thomas established churches in India where he was martyred with a spear. On the Cawston screen St Thomas is depicted holding a large spear.

St John the Evangelist St John is traditionally regarded as the author of the gospel which bears his name. John is also thought to be the author of the Book of Revelation. On the Cawston screen St John is depicted holding the chalice as a symbol of the last supper.

St James the Great St James the Great was the brother of John the apostle. He is often depicted with a staff, wallet and a scallop shell, essential equipment for a pilgrim. St James the Great is the patron saint of Spain and there is a tradition that his body was buried at Santiago de Compostela. In the Cawston screen St James is depicted holding a pilgrim’s staff and has a scallop shell motif on his cloak.

St Andrew St Andrew was a fisherman before he became one of the twelve apostles. His symbols are a net and an Xshaped cross, the saltire. St Andrew travelled widely in Eastern Europe after the resurrection. He was put to death on and X-shaped cross in Greece. On the Cawston screen St Andrew is depicted holding the saltire.

St Paul St Paul taught the gospel all around the Mediterranean in the 1st century AD, travelling widely and founding several churches in Asia Minor and Europe. Traditionally 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament have been attributed to Paul. St Paul was beheaded with a sword at the order of the Roman Emperor Nero and is shown on the Cawston screen holding a sword.

St Peter St Peter is depicted on the Cawston screen holding the keys to heaven. Jesus described St Peter, one of the twelve apostles, as the “Rock of my church�. St Peter became the first Pope. When he was executed in Rome St Peter asked to be crucified upside down as he was unworthy to die in the same was as his master.

St Gregory the Great St Gregory the Great is represented with a dove and a roll of music in one hand. He was born in Rome in 540 and became a monk. There is tradition that St Gregory came to England as a missionary before he was recalled to Rome to become Pope. St Gregory sent St Augustine to build up a Christian church in England. On Cawston’s screen, St Gregory’s face was scratched away, defaced, during the reformation.

St Jerome St Jerome is credited with revising the text of the four gospels into Latin, the Vulgate. There is a tradition that when a lion came to his monastery with an injured paw. St Jerome healed the paw and the lion became his faithful companion. On the Cawston screen St Jerome is depicted with a lion at his feet and holding a Bible.

St Ambrose St Ambrose was a successful lawyer before he became a bishop. There is a tradition that when Ambrose was an infant in his cradle a swarm of bees settled on his face, leaving behind a drop of honey, a sign of Ambrose’s “honeyed tongue”. St Ambrose is usually represented with a beehive. As a Doctor of the Latin Church St Ambrose’s image on the Cawston screen’s doors had been defaced.

Augustine of Hippo St Augustine of Hippo gave up a life of sin and partying to become a priest and eventually the bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Augustine founded a religious order and practised poverty and support for the poor. Traditionally St Augustine is represented holding a flaming heart in his hand and carrying a pastoral staff. He is also the patron saint of brewers.

St James the Less St James the Less was one of the twelve apostles and is thought to have been a relative of Jesus. St James the Less was the first bishop of Jerusalem and there is a tradition that he was the author of the epistle which bears his name. The traditions about how St James the Less was martyred include being hurled from the pinnacle of the temple and being stoned and then hit on the head with a fuller’s club, a staff used to make cloth, which he is depicted holding on the Cawston screen.

St Bartholomew St Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles. It is thought that St Bartholomew came from Cana in Galilee and was described by Jesus as “an Israelite… incapable of deceit”. There is a tradition that St Bartholomew preached in India and Armenia where he was beheaded.

St Philip St Philip was one of the twelve apostles mentioned in John’s gospel as being present at the miracle of the loaves and fishes. There is a tradition that after the resurrection Philip preached in Greece where he was crucified upside down.

St Jude Also known as Thaddaeus, St Jude was one of the twelve apostles and is thought to be a brother of St James the Less and a relative of Jesus. There is a tradition that St Jude travelled widely in the ancient world preaching and was martyred in Persia. In the Cawston screen St Jude is shown holding a mediaeval ship.

St Simon Zelotes St Simon Zelotes was one of the twelve apostles. There is a tradition that St Simon Zelotes travelled in the Middle East and Africa after the resurrection and was executed by being sawn in half in Persia. Originally a fisherman, St Simon is sometimes represented with a fish or a saw.

St Matthew St Matthew was one of the twelve apostles and according to tradition one of the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels. St Matthew is sometimes represented by an angel or as an old man with the bible in his hand. In Cawston’s screen St Matthew is also shown wearing spectacles, a modern invention when the screen was created.

St Matthias St Matthias became on of the twelve apostles after the Ascension of Jesus, taking place of Judas Iscariot. St Matthias was chosen by casting lots, the ancient equivalent of flipping coins. St Matthias was famous for being and evangelist and suffered persecution. There is a tradition that St Matthias was beheaded in Jerusalem by the Jews and is depicted on the Cawston screen with a spear.

Sir John Schorn Unlike the others depicted on the Cawston screen Sir John Schoen was never made a saint. The rector of North Marston in Buckinghamshire around the year 1300, tradition has it that Sir John Schorn was a very holy man who could cure gout and toothache. He was believed to have cast the devil into a boot and on the Cawston screen is shown holding the boot with the devil inside. Sir John Schorn is one of the images on the Cawston Screen which was defaced during the Reformation.

History of the screen The parishioners at Cawston saved for their rood screen and loft over a considerable time, and parts of it were decorated at different times. The earliest surviving bequest is from 1460 (John Barker), but bequests also remain from 1490 (William and Alice Atereth), 1492 (William Howelyn), 1494 (Robert Osborn) and 1504 (Richard Browne). The design of the woodwork of the screen points to its construction dating to after 1485 and its painting is the product of several distinct groups of painters whose work can be found on screens elsewhere in Norfolk and Suffolk. On the north side of the screen, the figures are St Agnes, St Helena, St Thomas, St John the Evangelist, St James the Great, St Andrew, St Paul and St Peter. These paintings all appear to be by the same workshop. As the inscription indicates, the first four panels were paid for by the Atereths.

Cawston is one of only a few screens in East Anglia to have doors. The four Latin Doctors of the Church are depicted; St Gregory, St Jerome, St Ambrose and St Augustine. On the south side of the Cawston screen, the figures are: St James the Less, St Bartholomew, St Philip, St Jude, St Simon, St Matthew, St Matthias, Sir John Schorn. The last six of these figures are painted on parchment. The first two panes, of St Bartholomew and St James the Less are by another painter, as the stencils used here are once again different from those elsewhere. Many of the figures were subjected to iconoclasm in either the Reformation or Civil War period. The eyes have been scratched, and on the parchment figures on the south side, burnt.


Conservation of the screen

During the sixteenth century England experienced iconoclasm on an unprecedented scale. The largely state-sponsored destruction affected every community as parish churches and cathedrals were stripped of their religious images.

In 1951, the Rector and the then Council for the Care of Churches decided that conservation was necessary to tackle a death watch beetle infestation and to clean the screen as much as was possible. The Cawston screen was restored in 1952 by Miss D. J. Wormald (who was responsible for cleaning the painted surface) and Mr J. Royal (who undertook the structural work).

The issue of images and the role they played in worship was central to the Protestant Reformation. Reformers feared that people were adoring statues and paintings instead of God by praying to them, making offerings, kneeling before them and kissing them – the very definition of the sin of idolatry. In the mid-sixteenth century a regime of systematic iconoclasm was implemented. Orders were given to ‘utterly extinct and destroy’ images ‘so that there remain no memory of the same’. Religious images were removed, defaced, whitewashed or obliterated to prevent people’s engagement with them. The result was a comprehensive dismantling and eradication of centuries-worth of medieval art and religious and cultural tradition.

Wormald and Royal’s treatment involved the laying of flaking paint, the repair of some of the woodwork including the addition of new inserted oak pieces, the injection of insecticide into beetle exit holes, the removal of floor boards behind to air the sill, surface cleaning, impregnation of the screen with wax‐resin and the final varnishing of the screen with beeswax. This was done on all but the top beam. Since 1952, flaking paint on the screen has been consolidated by Pauline Plummer on three occasions, in the 1970’s, 1990’s and 2000’s.

Visit and Š Cawston Parish Church 2015

The Cawston Rood Screen Guide

A valuable source of information about the Cawston Rood Screen is The Medieval Rood Screen at St Agnes, Cawston, Norfolk Condition Survey by Dr Lucy Wrapson Hamilton Kerr Institute, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Profile for Cawston Parish Church

Cawston Church Screen Guide  

A 16-page guide to the Cawston Rood Screen

Cawston Church Screen Guide  

A 16-page guide to the Cawston Rood Screen