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St Peter, Bishop Norton, Lincolnshire

(53°25′15″N, 0°31′20″W)
Bishop Norton
SK 983 926
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Lincolnshire
now Lincolnshire
  • Thomas E. Russo
24 July 1998

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Feature Sets

This is an 18th c. Georgian church consisting of a W tower, nave, and chancel. There is a reset Romanesque tympanum in the exterior W wall of the tower.


Bishop Norton is entered in Domesday Book as simply “Nortune” and as belonging to the land holdings of the Bishop of Lincoln; there is no mention of a church here in 1086. Binnall notes the existence of several 12th c. charters which record papal confirmations of Norton to the bishop of Lincoln and in the 13th c. Norton provided an endowment for a prebend at the cathedral. There was definitely a church in Bishop Norton by 1146, as a charter from 6 February 1146 expressly states that the church is not included in the papal confirmations (Registrum Antiquissimum of the Cathedral Church of Lincoln, v. 1, no. 252; no. 255 from 5 June 1163 reiterates this exclusion; see Greenway). According to Pevsner the faculty for the rebuilding of St. Peter is dated 1737. In 1928 the tympanum came to light when the ivy, that apparently had been covering the W tower for some time, was removed.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration


It is not clear if this reset tympanum was part of the 12th c. church here or if it was transported from another site. The sculptural design has parallels at Lincoln and Middle Rasen. The interlocking circles on the lintel recall those on a Romanesque sarcophagus now in the Morning Chapel at Lincoln Cathedral. The roundels in the tympanum, particularly roundels 1, 3, and 5 (starting from left), are similar in design to the paterae flanking the chancel arch at SS. Peter and Paul in Middle Rasen, eight miles to the east of Bishop Norton.

Mee, writing in 1949, notes that the “unusual carving” of this tympanum consists of a “weird group of what appear to be men’s heads, a dragon, and a man fallen down, with the head of a lamb in the midst.” Binnall, on the other hand, interprets the central sculptural group as three connected heads “that may form an emblem of the Trinity” and a “recumbent figure…related to the Creation.” Zarnecki, whose opinion Binnall sought, did not commit to Binnall’s interpretation but suggested that if the heads symbolized the Trinity then the recumbent figure more likely represented “the force of evil overcome by the Trinity" (see Binnall). Pevsner laconically notes “a recumbent figure and the signum triciput” and is clearly following Binnall’s Trinitarian interpretation. The severe, weathered condition of the sculpture makes it extremely difficult to come to any conclusive interpretation of the iconography.

Based on comparative material at Kenilworth and Newark which Zarnecki brought to his attention, Binnall dated the tympanum to c. 1145. Pevsner puts it in the same neighborhood, c. 1150.


P. Binnall, “An Unrecorded Norman Tympanum at Bishop Norton, Lincs.,” The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. XLI, 1961, 92-93.

D. Greenway, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1300, Vol. 3, Lincoln (1977), pp. XVIII-XXVI. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=33558. Date accessed: 20 June 2013.

A. Mee, The King’s England: Lincolnshire. London, 1949 (1970), p. 43.

J. Morris (ed.), Domesday Book: 31. Lincolnshire. Chichester: Phillimore, 1986, 7,4.

N. Pevsner and J. Harris, The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire. London: Penguin, 1989 (1990), 147.