Angels & Demons of Upwell

I called at the Norfolk village of Upwell this summer, on my journey from Lincolnshire to Suffolk. Some inconvenient road closures had interrupted my journey and my Satnav was refusing to take them into account. Frustrated and tired, I pulled over by the church to give my brain and back a rest. Contrary to my expectations, the church was left open and the treasures within were mine to enjoy.

Unusually, the church had a north and west gallery. Many churches were given these in the eighteenth-century when preaching was deemed the most important part of the Anglican service; as the Victorians re-Romanised, galleries were removed to give the churches a more medieval feel.

Up I climbed. The west end gave me a fine view of the church below. The northern gallery was full of stored items and spare furniture, but no sign or steward was there for forbid my entry, so I went up there, too. Like many East Anglian churches, impressively carved wooden angels are attached to the ceilings, typically with bouffant, fifteenth-century hair styles. Such figures can usually only be seen from some distance as one squints up, but, thanks to the gallery, I could almost touch them. Much as I appreciated their age and the skill of their craftmanship, I was briefly horrified by their faces. Were they angels or demons? Their sharp expressions and glaring eyes were not especially friendly and benevolent.

I have previously shared that real angels may well partake, or at least observe, Christian worship. Paul talks of women dressing modestly ‘for the sake of the angels’ and the writer of the Hebrews warns that these creatures may come to us ‘unawares’. If angels may pay court to our gatherings, what about those other angelic beings, the ones who rebelled against God, and are pleased to hate and despise everything godly and holy?

I have no doubt that the wooden angels of Upwell were indeed intended to be the good creatures and not the ill, and that the eighteenth-century depiction of them as cheerful, bloated toddlers is hardly any better. Real angels are likely more ferocious and terrifying than anything those medieval joiners could manufacture. I suspect the devils of Lancashire (of which I dare say a great many exist) stay well clear of Salem Chapel. If our incessant proclamation of Christ Jesus, His atoning work and His literal resurrection, grates liberals and unbelievers, how much more the very dukes of hell? They hate the name of Jesus, to which they must yield, and despise its Owner, who shall judge them for their rebellion. The angels of Upwell may seem a little fiendish, but they are, I think, the closest we shall get to having Satan’s minions take a pew and peer about.

Jesus, the Name high over all,

in hell or earth or sky;

angels and men before it fall,

and devils fear and fly.

-Charles Wesley