Medieval parish churches

Rood screen, St Agnes, Cawston

Cawston - details of woodwork_530x680

Rood screen, St Agnes, Cawston
Watercolour: W. L. Spiers (c. 1880)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection

Like many East Anglian churches, St Agnes, Cawston was rebuilt in the later Middle Ages. Donations from the local nobility, the wealthy De La Poles, meant this work was especially impressive: the church’s magnificent tower is nearly 120 feet high, and its nave ceiling renowned for its elaborate carving.

The rood screen, dividing the choir from the nave, dates from around 1460. A precious survival, it still has its original doors. Unusually, paintings of various saints grace this, including the figure of St Matthew still wearing his spectacles. Only one painting was attacked by the iconoclasts of the Reformation: clearly, despite the upheavals of the Reformation, the old saints still commanded great respect.

This drawing by W.L. Spiers (1848-1917) concentrates on the screen’s delicious colour scheme. Spiers trained as an architect, but was better known as an historian, eventually becoming curator of Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. This drawing displays his close attention to detail, revealing the screen’s delightful decoration of flowers and vegetation. This is usually ignored because of the attention-grabbing saints. In this drawing, for once, they are absent.


About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

Top of page