The ruin of St Felix Church
Babingley shown within Norfolk
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Babingley is one of Norfolk's lost villages. This small parish was located on the western side of the A149, 1 mile north-west of Castle Rising, and 5½ miles north-north-east of King's Lynn. Today, the village of Babingley is constituted by several houses on the A149 - the King's Lynn to Hunstanton road - and Hall Farm. Saint Felix church stands on the farmland.
It is claimed that Babingley was the landfall of St Felix the Burgundian, who converted the East Angles. Felix was invited by the Wuffings, the East Anglian royal family, to evangelise their kingdom—although Babingley is about as far as it is possible to be in East Anglia from the former royal capital at Rendlesham. St Felix is said to have arrived in Babingley around AD 615 via the River Babingley after taking shelter from a violent storm, and made his way to Canterbury where he was ordained as a bishop around 630 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Honorius, at the request of King Sigebert of East Anglia. St Felix made his cathedral on the other side of the kingdom at Dummoc, the modern Walton.
St. Felix's Church
The ruins of Babingley’s church stand in the meadows close to the river. It is said to be the site of the first Christian Church erected in the county. This remote ruin, mainly 14th century is now part of the nearby Sandringham estate, and was still a working church until the 19th century. There are records of an attempt to repair it as recently as 1849, according to Nikolaus Pevsner. However, it was still partially roofed in 1949, as a picture of it in this state is in The ruined and Disused Churches Of Norfolk book (Neil Badcock) so there must have been attempts to keep it in good order long after that. The introduction of the mission church on the main road in 1880 led to its final demise, and it was abandoned. it's condition has seriously declined since the 1970s, and what remains today apart from the sturdy 14th-century tower is just an empty shell, but there is one fascinating detail. Curiously, the chancel arch was blocked and has a window set in it, which was taken from the south side of the chancel building. Despite the suggestion that the chancel was blocked off and used for other purposes, it is far more likely that it was simply abandoned much earlier in a move to decrease the church's size in response to its dwindling population, the chancel is also enormous, larger than the nave in height and length, and is described as being decayed in the Great church survey of 1602. The north aisle suffered a similar fate; being blocked up possibly at the same time, the south aisle still survives. There is a substantial Tudor brick porch, which must have been a fine one. Like several ruined churches in the area, St Felix was captured in an atmospheric painting by John Piper in the early 1980s. Since then, ivy has virtually swamped the entire site. It is hoped that this could be cleared in the near future, not least as the church is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.
It is on private land, and must only be viewed with permission of the landowner.
The village sign is also of interest as it depicts the story of St.Felix landing here in his attempt to bring Christianity to East Anglia, legend has it he was ship wrecked on the River Babingley, and was saved from drowning by a colony of Beavers, to show his gratitude the head Beaver was made a Bishop, so upon the top of the sign can be seen St.Felix handing the Bishop's Mitre to the little creature.
A story that needs some imagination these days as the river is little more than a stream.
On a traffic island in the middle of the road junction to West Newton, opposite the turning for the missionary church, can be found the base of Butler's Cross, a highly decorated piece of stone, that may have been named after William D' Albini, the builder of nearby castle Rising, who was butler to William the Conqueror.
- F. Maurice Powicke and E.B. Fryde Handbook of British Chronology 2nd. ed. London: Royal Historical Society, 1961
- Walsh, Michael A New Dictionary of Saints: East and West London: Burns & Oates, 2007, ISBN 0-86012-438-X