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Church wall painting take us back to gruesome murders

The architecture of historic churches is really something to behold. You can see the grisly depictions from medieval times of the murder of Thomas Becket alongside intricate and ornate decorations that glitter like gems. The churches also house a wealth of surprising, fascinating and above all irreplaceable wall paintings showing 1000 years of British history.

The Churches Conservation Trust, who are a national charity dedicated to protecting those historic churches which are at risk, are launching a new online resource on November 9 which has an interactive guide to a selection of some of the finest wall paintings it currently has in its care.

www.visitchurches.org.uk/wallpaintings is where you will find this unique resource covering the entire history of church wall paintings, from the 12th century when the first brushstrokes were applied right through to the dazzling examples from the 19th century. The wall paintings were originally created to inspire, motivate, educate and project fear to congregations, of which many were illiterate.

The portal will help people understand how these works were created, how to unlock their meaning and read the stories they portray, how they are being conserved and their historical and national importance. Examples show a range from the beautiful and gruesome to the downright bizarre [full list by county below].

Highlight images include:

  • St Peter’s Church, Preston Park, Brighton: The gruesomely-realistic depiction of the murder of Thomas Becket showing a knight (possibly William de Tracy) plunging his sword into Becket’s head and blood dripping from the hand of Edward Grim, Becket’s chaplain.
  • St Lawrence, Broughton, Milton Keynes: A vibrant and animated depiction of St George and the Dragon fighting to the death over the south door of the Church. The church boasts extensive paintings dating from the early 14th – mid 15th century, which remained hidden until 1849.
  • St Giles Church, Imber, Wiltshire: The church for the now deserted town in the Army training area on Salisbury Plain contains, amongst other, a very rare depiction of the Seven Deadly Sins.
  • St. John, Duxford, Cambridgeshire: Stunningly-detailed wallpaintings from 1100s to the eve of the Reformation, including a range of rare subjects, such as a scene of Joseph of Arimathea asking for the body of Christ – unique in English wallpainting.
  • Undedicated Church, Whitcome, Dorset: A mermaid combing her hair. She was revealed during conservation work in 1912.
  • St. John the Baptist, Inglesham, Gloucestershire: Astonishing wallpaintings painted layer upon layer from the 13th to the 19th century, which were saved from destruction by William Morris.

The Charity’s initiative is a two-phased scheme. The CCT cares for 340 historic churches no longer used for regular worship. Over 60 of these churches have wallpaintings. Phase one of the project has captured the wallpaintings from 24 churches. The focus being on cataloguing the most dramatic and significant wallpaintings from the CCT’s collection of churches. The remaining 36 wallpaintings will be captured when the Charity has raised a final £30,000 towards the second phase of the scheme.

The CCT’s new online resource will be the most accessible resource of its kind, featuring high resolution images, case studies of each church, a history of the development of wallpaintings and in-depth discussions on topics such as styles of dress depicted, the pigments and materials used to created the paintings and the role and meaning of the signs and symbols on show.

Visitors will be able to zoom into images to examine the detail of the wallpaintings and to scroll along a timeline covering historical events depicted in the paintings. Phase two of the scheme will also include interactive digital elements such as an invisible pen to outline the missing details of wallpaintings and a detailed education pack for schools.

Crispin Truman, Chief Executive of the Churches Conservation Trust, says: “Our charity cares for the largest collection of historic churches in the country. We believe that the best way to save these remarkable buildings for future generations is to bring them back into the heart of community life through people visiting and making use of the spaces.

“The wallpaintings in our churches are national treasures. Our new project contributes in their survival by helping people understand their value, locate them more easily and visit our churches and read the interior of these wonderful buildings. We have catalogued over 24 churches and are actively fund raising to secure the final £30,000 to finish the project and capture the remaining 36 churches and their wallpaintings.”

The CCT’s new online portal goes live on 9 November 2011: www.visitchurches.org.uk/wallpaintings

 

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