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Swithin, or Strong Bear Cub

Location: Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PG

Map showing location of Norwich Arts Centre

The church that now houses the Norwich Arts Centre is called St Swithins. ‘Swithin’ is an Old English name meaning ‘strong bear cub.’ The poem combines that fact with the medieval belief that bear cubs were born as formless blobs, and licked into bear-shape by their mothers.

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Read the poem

In the belly of a bear cub there is music. 
At the church’s beginnings Gregorian chants
lifted tie beams high above 
the heads and throats and lungs
that made them. 

In the beginning, the cub was formless, 
licked into shape by knapped flint and religious
architects. A church so wide awake and proximate
its growling, musical stomach could be heard 
above the bells of St Margaret’s, 

St Laurence’s, St Gregory’s, St. Giles’. 
With the seasons that lasted centuries, 
the bear awoke and slept, hibernating 
as the city shifted and expanded 
and, one by one, the congregations

disbanded until, one day, the belly bloomed
with music again. The beams and pillars
rang and creaked and screeched with sound
and people brought their own noise
to the bear, with lights and sticks

and stamps louder and brighter than ever 
and a growling that ran so loud and so late, 
so strong and youthful and new
it made sure the church was awake.

Follow the trail

Go to Pykerell's House, Rosemary Lane for poem 10: Thomas Pykerell