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March, 2015

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Across the Market Square or along the alleys running eastward thwe bulk of the Norman keep still dominates as it did at the start of the last millennium. There are few traditional craftspeople or trades along the alleys now although the coffee bars and pubs offer refuge and refreshment.

Heading in the same direction is the splendid Art Nouveau Royal Arcade, where the Colman’s Mustard Shop as well as a Jamie Oliver can be found. If Jarrold’s, now a franchise emporium, has relegated its stationery and art supplies to an annexe across Bedford Street, there are at least views of the flint flushwork churches and medieval buildings on the way to some traditional shops near the river.

Along these narrow streets the first glimpse of Norwich Cathedral comes, discreetly pointing to the sky within its Close in Tombland. To reach the Close there is a busy road to cross, on one of the circuits traffic has to take aroung the centre. Once inside peace is the reward, with many ways to express it. The Welcome centre lives up to its name, with volunteer staff to guide to refreshments, the cloister or the cathedral.

For once, it was not the roof bosses giving their summary, as the medieval crafts guilds did on open air stages, of the biblical narrative, but a contemporary narrative we had come to see. Ana Maria Pacheco once taught at the art school in Norwich, and has returned with three sculptural groups at separate venues in the city. As one of the cathedral clergy said, the first sight takes the breath away.

The work in the cathedral drew inspiration from Aeneas carrying his father from the ruins of Troy but could equally refer to dispossessed people anywhere at any time. If it does not bring to mind the desperate state of affairs in the Middle East the viewer is to blame. Walking round the figures one or more will be bound to catch your eye and fix you with its gaze.

What is now thought to be one of the earliest representations of St Felix, bringer of Christianity to East Anglia – hence Felixstowe – is on a wall of the apse. From the cloister signs of a welcome visitor harking back to the Middle Ages comes on the platform built against the spire for peregrines. Successful broods have been raised there although March is a little early to see the birds.

The art school, five minutes’ walk from the cathedral, has another Pacheco sculpture and some prints and drawings. All are very impressive, not to say (with the sculpture) oppressive. Could this be medical, as in the famous Rembrandt painting, or given the men’s expressions, torture? Again thoroughly contemporary in reference.

Though we didn’t visit UEA and its Sainsbury Centre this time, it is another place to go in Norwich, and thoroughly recommended not only for the setting and the art on display but also for an excellent lunch. It has the added advantage that visitors to the Centre have free parking, something to be treasured in Norwich where all parking is expensive and park-and-ride, even if you have a bus pass, costs £1.70 each way or £1.80 if you return before 6 pm.


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