Binham Priory - Binham - Norfolk

                    (c) by John Ashley Photography

As you round the corner of the road into the village of Binham, the ruins of Binham Priory in its rolling landscape is a glorious and inspiring sight. The priory was founded in the late 11th century by Pierre de Valoines, nephew of William the Conqueror. 

Binham Priory Church is at once an outstandingly important architectural monument, and an engaging and inspiring place of worship. Although today greatly reduced in extent, the building possesses an immense and wonderful spirit of peace. After surrendering to Henry 8th, as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the monastic buildings were mostly pulled down.

Edward Paston, a well known individual of that time decided to use the masonry to build himself a new manor house. However during the demolition a workman was killed. This was considered to be a bad omen (not just by the poor workman's family!) and work was stopped. It is thanks to this superstition that we still have some extensive ruins to visit.

The west front of the priory church is quite magnificent, and is an elaborate example of Early English architecture. According to Matthew Paris, the 13th Century Chronicler, this façade was built between 1226 and 1244 by Richard de Parco. So the Round Window could be the earliest example of “bar tracery” in England. The design is made up of slender shafts and shaped stones continuing and branching out from the mullions to form a decorative pattern.

Nowadays the ruins of the Priory Church of St. Mary and the Holy Cross are still used as a place of worship, managed by English Heritage. In the summer months services are held at the open air alter. The church is so named because the Priory was dedicated to St. Mary and the Church to the Holy Cross. It is the nave of the church, which was originally a cruciform building with a central crossing tower. As a Benedictine foundation, the nave was used as the village church, witness the presence of the font. The church is built of local flint and Barnack limestone. The stone was brought from Northamptonshire by river and sea and up the river Stiffkey.

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The Interior is magnificent and consists of the first seven bays of the Priory Church, without the original aisles.  The Nave Arcades show how the architectural style developed. The builders started at the east in about 1130AD. The early arches are richly decorated with zig-zag and billet mouldings, progressing to the western end where the arches are pointed and ribbed. It is unusual to find so many differing varieties of decoration. The change from Norman to Early English work can be seen running diagonally upwards, i.e. there was more building done on the ground floor than on the upper floors, and as the builders progressed upwards and westwards, they built in the latest style.  The remains of the former ancient Rood Screen can be seen at the back of the Church. This was painted over after the Reformation with black-letter texts from Crammer’s Bible of 1539.   

The Scandalous Priors of Binham - It appears that in the past there was some scandal attached to the Priors of Binham. It stems from their quarrels with the mother-house at St Albans. They sold the silver, wasted money on lawsuits and generally indulged in 'scandalous behaviour' [details unclear...]. The worst was probably William de Somerton (1317-35), who spent vast sums on his alchemical experiments: he sold off 2 chalices, 6 copes, 3 chasubles, 7 gold rings, various silk cloths, silver cups and spoons, as well as the vessel in which the Sacrament was reserved and the crown that went over it!  He left the Priory £600 in debt. Then there was Alexander de Langley, Prior of Wymondham, who had become insane through over-study. He was sent to Binham, where he was flogged to 'a copious effusion of blood', and kept in solitary confinement until his death. He was buried in chains, and 'local legend' sites his grave is on the north side of the church.  

As with most buildings of this age the ruins have their own resident ghost The Black Monk.

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

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