Painted panel depicting St Apollonia of Alexandria
at St Augustine's church, Norwich
This painted panel, which probably dates from the early 15th century, may be all that remains of a rood [crucifixion] screen that once stood in St Augustine's church between the nave and chancel. How it survived at all is a mystery; no documentary evidence has been found to account for its survival or rediscovery, or even to prove it originally came from here.
The remainder of the rood screen was probably destroyed by Protestant iconoclasts in the mid-16th century at around the same time the church's stained glass and high altar were destroyed. It is interesting to note that the saint's face has been scratched out - literally 'defaced' - evidence perhaps that images such as this in the church were a source of controversy some time before they were finally pulled down.
The panel depicts St Apollonia, who was martyred in Alexandria in 249 for refusing to renounce her faith. In her right hand she holds a pair of blacksmith's tongs gripping one of her own teeth, a gruesome symbol of her martyrdom. Because of this association she was she is regarded as the patron saint of dentistry and invoked for a cure for the toothache, a common ailment in the Middle Ages, which perhaps explains her miraculous survival here.
St Apollonia seems to have been a popular saint in Norfolk. In addition to
St Augustine's, there are examples of her image on surviving complete medieval rood screens at churches in Barton Turf, Docking, Horsham St Faith, Ludham, Sandringham and St Stephen's in Norwich, as well as another loose panel, like St Augustine's, at Lessingham.
Photo © S. J. McLaren, 2006