Holy Trinity, Stow Bardolph
First appeared in Let's Talk! Norfolk, July 2005
On the north side of Stow Bardolph church is the memorial chapel of the long-time lords of the manor. Here are large marble monuments to various members of the Hare family.
These self-important figures, in classical garb and heroic poses they surely never adopted in life, are typical of 17th and 18th-century memorials to the rich and powerful. They are quite grand and imposing, and apparently very good of their kind, but are in a style so familiar from so many other churches that the eye tends to skim quickly over them.
Their grandeur is slightly diminished by the fact that the chapel now appears to be used as a Sunday school. Pinned beneath one more-than-lifesize tragic lady when I visited was a lively line drawing by Alex L captioned, "I learnt to play Skateboarding - Wahoo!"
Tucked away in a corner of the chapel is a fine, but distinctly un-imposing mahogany cupboard - a favourite object, no doubt, of the visiting children.
An inscription above the door begins, "Here lyeth the body of Sarah Hare..."
Open the door, and there she is. Well, no, actually, there she isn't.
What is there, however, is a lifesize wax effigy, almost certainly clad in favourite clothes of Sarah's, while her face and hands are believed to have been moulded in masks taken - either in life or death - from her actual face and hands.
Sarah Hare died in April 1744 and her effigy is the only one of its kind surviving in England outside Westminster Abbey. It is so lifelike - perhaps deathlike would be a more apt term - that even knowing you're looking at a waxwork, it is a most eerie thing to behold. Madame Tussaud's has no thrill to equal it.
To stand face-to-face with Sarah Hare is to leap across the centuries and make a kind of human contact, with the hair probably pricking on the back of your neck.
For 240 years after her death, Sarah's warts-and-all likeness sat untouched in its cabinet. Then, in 1984, Jean Fraser, a former studio manager at Tussaud's, was asked to undertake its careful conservation. An account of her task, and how she accomplished it, along with the work of Judith Dore in saving and preserving the clothing, is available in the church and makes fascinating reading.
While you're in the church, you should also lift the misericord seats in the chancel, where you will find medieval carvings of a man wrestling a dragon and two other men wrestling each other.
The rest of the church is mostly Victorian and rather dull, though what appears to be a medieval stone coffin stands gathering moss outside.
Never mind all that, though - it's Sarah Hare you've come to see, and she's waiting for you with endless patience.