25 January 2024, The Tablet

Alone on a hill

Approached by a farmer’s trail – with plenty of the other sorts of bumps in it, it’s worth the effort.

Alone on a hill

Creation of Eve, detail, one of the recently rediscovered wall paintings at ‘Bob’s Church’, Houghton on the Hill.
Photo: St Mary’s, Sue Gattuso


The remarkable discovery of Romanesque frescoes at a British church should have ensured its preservation. Alas, says Peter Stanford, its future is still uncertain.

Our landscape is dotted with many remarkable churches: just short of half the Grade I listed buildings in this entire country are places of worship.  Yet few come close to St Mary’s at Houghton on the Hill in Norfolk, either for the importance of its contents – or for the extraordinary story of how they were uncovered after the site had been abandoned in the 1930s and  taken over by satanists in the 1990s.


It couldn’t be more off the beaten track. Norfolk isn’t famous for its hills, as Noël Coward waspishly remarked, and the hill on which St Mary’s stands five miles south-east of the market town of Swaffham is little more than a bump. The village it once served is long gone, and it is approached by a farmer’s trail – with plenty of the other sorts of bumps in it. But I promise you this: it’s worth the effort.

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