03 April 2024

Saint Andrew’s Hall and
Blackfriars’ Hall in Norwich
stand on the site of a large
mediaeval monastic complex

Saint Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars’ Hall or the Halls in Norwich are the most complete pre-Reformation mendicant monastic buildings in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I discussed in a posting yesterday how, by the mid-14th century, Norwich was a wealthy mediaeval city with a population of about 25,000, and a cathedral, five monasteries, a convent, and a greater number of parish churches than any city in mediaeval England other than London.

Saint Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars’ Hall or the Halls are part of the surviving complex of a former Dominican priory church and convent buildings in Norwich, dating back to the 14th century. They form the most complete set of pre-Reformation mendicant monastic buildings to survive in England.

The complex is made up of several flint buildings, with Saint Andrew's Hall the centrepiece. The Halls are now used for conferences, weddings, concerts, beer festivals and meetings. They have maximum capacity of 1,200 people, and they are one of the Norwich 12 heritage sites.

The Blackfriars or Dominicans arrived in Norwich in 1226 and settled in the parish of Colgate. However, Saint Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars’ Hall were a separate foundation, and the site dates back to the mid-13th century, when an order known as the Friars of the Sack, settled in the parishes of Saint Andrew and Saint Peter Hungate in Norwich.

The order, which followed the Rule of Saint Augustine, was founded in Italy and first arrived in England in 1257. By the early 14th century, the Friars of the Sack were in decline. The Order of Preachers or Dominicans, also known as the Black Friars because of the colour of their habit, took over the site by royal licence in 1307, with the condition that they would care for the last remaining friar.

The cloister church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist served the largest of the four male monasteries in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The early brick buildings, built by the Friars of the Sack between 1270 and 1307, are still largely intact and are now the Crypt Café Bar and the covered remains of Thomas A Beckett’s Chapel, ‘deliberately demolished’ in 1876.

The cloister church, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and the largest of the four male monasteries in Norwich, was begun in 1326 but not completed until 1470 due to a fire that destroyed much of the first church and the early buildings in 1413. The fire also destroyed a large part of the city.

The second church building which survives today was completed in 1470. The nave of the new church now forms Saint Andrew’s Hall, and the five-day chancel is now Blackfriars’ Hall. There is also a crypt, chapel and cloisters.

The five original windows at Saint Andrew’s Hall and the large east window at Blackfriars were incorporated into the new building. The roof beams for Blackfriars and the hammerhead beams on the roof of Saint Andrew’s were gifts from the Paston family, along with the 15th century doors with the Paston and Mothby arms on the south porch.

The family of Sir Thomas Erpingham made large donations for rebuilding the nave of the Dominican conventual church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The family of Sir Thomas Erpingham, the hero of Agincourt, donated large sums of money to rebuild the church. Erpingham’s son, Robert, was a monk in the church. The Erpingham arms can be seen between each of the lantern windows when viewed from the Preachers’ Yard at the front of the building, in the glass of the west window, and in the Victorian doors of Blackfriars Hall.

The large preaching nave is separated from the private choir of monks by a pathway leading directly to the cloisters. The pathway was originally topped by a tower built in 1462 by Sir Simon de Felbrigge, who is buried in Blackfriars Hall. The tower was destroyed by a storm in 1712.

Behind the north door of Blackfriars Hall are the remains of an anchorage or cell where a woman was walled at her own request to devote her life to God and to giving spiritual advice. The names of two hermits, Catherine Foster and Catherine Mann, are still known today.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Tudor Reformation, the city asked Henry VIII in 1538 to buy a monastery and ‘to make a church a fayre and a large hall with good paths for the mayor and his brethren … for their general meetings …’ and as a common hall. The town chamberlains paid £81 in 1540, but then had to pay another £152 for the lead they had already bought for the roof.

The Erpingham arms can be seen in the doors of Blackfriars Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The nave of Saint Andrew’s Hall was refurbished and named New Hall. It has been used ever since for public events. The first recorded event was in 1544, when the first Mayor’s feast was held for the inauguration of Henry Fuller.

As well as being used for guild meetings, as a jury trial, corn exchange and corn hall, the hall has been involved in many aspects of life in Norwich. The Earl of Warwick stabled his horses there when he came to Norwich put down the Kett Rebellion in 1549; Sir Thomas Brown was knighted here by Charles II in 1671.

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival began in these halls. The Norwich Triennial Festival, the third oldest in Britain. More modern traditions include the largest regional beer festival in Britain, which started in 1978.

Saint Andrew’s is the centrepiece of the Halls and is the name by which many people refer to the whole complex of buildings. It has a high-beamed ceiling, stained glass windows, limestone columns and a large polished maple floor. The stained glass, stone carving and deeply-coloured portraits add richness to the simple backdrop of the building.

The hall has been used for a multitude of functions, from royal banquets to international table tennis. It is regularly used for classical music concerts and during the annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival it hosts performances by jazz, pop, and folk artists from all over the world. It is popular for banquets and dinners, conferences, fairs, and exhibitions such as Art Fair East.

When used for concerts, Saint Andrew’s is an impressive auditorium, with choir galleries, a large extendable stage, and both a Victorian concert organ and a Steinway grand piano.

The Halls are closed throughout this year (2024), while extensive renovations are under way, including essential structural work to its roof, stained glass windows and secondary glazing.

The venue facilities are also being upgraded, with investment in audio visual equipment and lighting, a major redesign to improve flow and accessibility, a revamp of the outside space, and an enhanced café and bar area.

The project is involves transforming the Halls into a multi-use performance venue for concerts, trade fairs, corporate meetings, film sets and weddings. The project is expected to be completes in spring 2025. It will support the wider cultural provision in the city, as well as contributing to the Norwich 2040 Vision of a creative, fair, liveable, connected and dynamic city.

Saint Andrew’s Church is the second largest mediaeval church in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Andrew’s Church nearby is the second largest mediaeval church in Norwich and one of the last mediaeval churches to be built in the city. It is a fine example of a hall church. It was built in the late Perpendicular Gothic style with a timber roof of tie beam construction.

Bequests were made for building a church on this site in 1386. The main body of the church dates from 1499 to 1518. The tower dates from 1478-1496, the south porch from ca 1469 and the north porch from ca 1474. Work on the nave and chancel completed in 1506, replacing the previous structure.

After the Reformation, Saint Andrew’s became a ‘Protestant preaching house’. During the reign of Mary I, Elizabeth Cooper, a Puritan parishioner and the wife of a pewterer, was arrested for her Puritan beliefs and tortured. She recanted and was released, but then returned to Saint Andrew’s during the Mass, stood up and publicly revoked her recantation. She was arrested once again and was burned at the stake in Norwich as a heretic on 13 July 1557.

A sundial at Saint Andrew’s Church in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

John Robinson (1576-1625) became associate pastor of Saint Andrew’s Church in August 1603. At the time, Norwich had strong links with Holland and Flanders, and the Puritan merchants and political leaders of Norwich had close links with the Dutch Calvinists.

Robinson was one of the founders of the Congregational church, along with Robert Browne and Henry Barrow, and he later became pastor to the Pilgrim Fathers before they set out on the Mayflower for the New World.

Major restoration work in the church in 1867, included installing new pews, pulpit and a stone screen.

Today, Saint Andrew’s Church is one of the leading evangelical Anglican churches in the centre of Norwich.

Saint Andrew’s Church is a leading evangelical church in the centre of Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
4, 3 April 2024

The Supper at Emmaus … a window by Daniel Bell of Bell and Almond in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

This has been a busy Easter, and, although the holiday weekend is over, the Easter celebrations continue in the Church Calendar.

Throughout this week, my morning reflections each day include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

‘The Road to Emmaus’ icon by Sister Marie Paul OSB of the Mount of Olives Monastery, Jerusalem (1990), commissioned by the Canadian theologian Father Thomas Rosica

Luke 24: 13-35 (NRSVA):

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Supper at Emmaus … a mosaic in the Church of the Holy Name, Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 3 April 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Easter Day Reflection.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Dr Carlton John Turner, USPG Trustee.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (3 April 2024) invites us to pray:

We pray for a continued willingness to see Jesus afresh in our individual and corporate lives.

The Collect:

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of Life,
who for our redemption gave your only–begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
have delivered us from the power of our enemy:
grant us so to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

He was made ‘known to them in the breaking of the bread’ (Luke 24: 35) … bread baked for the Easter Eucharist at Mount Athos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org