Welcome to St. Mary's Church


Hidden in the countryside of the Norfolk Breckland - a place of worship, history, family stories, and relaxation

Open Every Day 2pm to 4pm

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Can You Spare a Couple of Hours?

St Mary’s church is looking to expand our friendly team of guides as we move to the busy summer visitor season.  St Mary’s team of guides were nationally praised for their welcoming and knowledgeable reception to visitors, being runners up in last year’s National Churches Trust’s “Open for Visitors” awards.
The church is open to visitors every day during summer hours from 2 to 4 pm. So, if you have a couple of hours to spare each week, or even less frequently, to offer our visitors please contact jwhigham@btinternet.com. You will be fully briefed about the history of the church and its internationally important wall paintings and trained in our visitor handling.
We look forward to hearing from you.

The church of St Mary, Houghton-on-the-Hill is one of the most remarkable early churches in East Anglia. Hidden down a bridleway in the rural Norfolk Brecks and close to Peddars Way, its flint walls guarded and guided its villagers for almost a thousand years.
Today it is visited by hundreds of people each year, coming from all parts of the globe, and regularly hosts tours, school visits and special events. However, this has not always been the case…

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Wall Paintings

Little did the villagers know that underneath several layers of plaster survived ancient wall paintings, described by Pevsner in 1999 as "of extraordinary importance". The east wall features, as its centrepiece, the earliest known depiction of the Throne of Grace and the whole wall is a type of Last Judgement, but with a God centred Trinity rather than the more usual Majesty of Christ. The other nave walls were also painted  – all dating back to the construction of the church around 1090 or perhaps earlier.

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What People Say...

Thank you for a wonderful afternoon. It was so exciting driving up the lane to the church and then finding so much more than I expected in this beautiful, isolated location. And I was expecting much from reading about the early rarity of these wall paintings! What an unusual churchyard, and then so peaceful to walk into the wilder area and find the bench overlooking the fields. Kate, our guide, conjured up the nearby village that existed up until the 1930s and then explained the alterations to the church that had taken place over the last 1000 years - visibly evidenced in the brickwork and the uncovered foundation stones outside. Although the revealing of the Saxon wall paintings is partial, (respecting the layers that came after), is sometimes faint, sometimes therefore speculative, what can be seen is this explosive, and much larger than I'd imagined...- just wonderful!
Michele Witting
Today it's one of the most important churches in East Anglia, attracting visitors and academics from all over the world, but it was only discovered by chance during a WI walk over 27 years ago
KL Magazine August 2019
Beautiful! Such a special place.
visitor from USA
The most wonderful feeling in this church. Long may it flourish!
visitor from Suffolk
What a privilege to be here and have such a lovely guided tour. Very special. Thank you!
visitor from Wiltshire
A truly wonderful peaceful church steeped in so much history. Renovation is second to none and was brought to life totally by very knowledgeable and interesting guide.
visitor from Swaffham
A fascinating place thanks to one man's devotion
visitor from Pontefract
Revealed in the 1990s during the repair of a semi-derelict, ivy-strewn church in Norfolk, the paintings at Houghton on the Hill, near South Pickenham, are the most extensive scheme of early wall paintings to have survived
Medieval Wall Paintings by Roger Rosewell
As with the architectural fabric, there is evidence of an Anglo-Saxon hand in the paintings on the east wall. Most obvious, perhaps, is the quatrefoil, on the Father's knee. The quatrefoil is a rarity in Romanesque art, but a common feature in pre-conquest England.
Munns – Cross and Culture
The paintings … have caused ripples of excitement in art-historical circles, due to their exceptionally early date and extremely rare subject matter.
Park & Heywood
Well worth a visit and lovely walking area as well
Stvngbbns Gibbons
Fantastic and historical place. The trustees are very knowledgeable and interesting
Paul Hunt
Stunning little church with amazing voluntary local guides. Every time I have visited there is always someone waiting for visitors and I'm always astonished at how many people turn up. The murals on all the wall are said to the be the oldest in Europe - it is fascinating to see what the church may have been like hundreds of years ago. The church itself has many different build and roof levels/wall changes/window changes and so on - Roman, Saxon, Medieval... and the stories that go with it are captivating. It really is worth seeking out and making a visit. I love it here.
Tamasine Smith
"Whoever you are who has made such an oasis in the middle of nowhere, may God truly bless you. Such a haven of peace that only He can give. Thank you"

How to Find Us

Google Maps Plus Code: JQ75+HQ Swaffham

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Open: Last weekend March to Last weekend October
every day 2pm - 4pm

Open: 1st weekend November to Last weekend March
Saturday & Sunday 2pm - 4pm

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St Mary's Church
Browns Lane
PE37 8DP

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The Friends of St Mary’s Church is a registered charity no: 1069758

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