medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
I have not been through this web site thoroughly but it has some wall
paintings of the Last Judgement as depicted in English churches (all
interior, I think, and none on the exterior walls.)
The Doom page:
"After St. Christopher, the Doom or Last Judgement was probably the subject
most commonly painted in the Medieval parish church."
And an article from The Times which may be of interest.
Scholars hail discovery of 11th-century paintings beneath layers of
plaster and ivy in ruined church
Hidden frescoes give new picture of Romanesque art
BY DALYA ALBERGE, ARTS CORRESPONDENT
ROMANESQUE wall paintings identified as the oldest extensive church
frescoes in Britain have been discovered by a retired engineer among
ivy-covered ruins. Scholars speak of being breathless with excitement at
the find and describe it as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience". One said:
"Those few who have been fortunate to see it have come back almost
The images, which include the oldest depiction of its kind of the Holy
Trinity anywhere in Europe, have been found in a remote and dilapidated
church in the west of Norfolk. Prophets, saints and a demon figure are
among paintings that were concealed for centuries beneath medieval and
17th-century painted plaster and a wall of ivy that had engulfed the
roofless building. They were painted in about 1090, three years after
death of William the Conqueror.
The find was made by Bob Davey, pictured right, who has lived locally
since 1987, after he noticed patches of red ochre poking through the ivy
at the church, reputed to be haunted, and contacted Norfolk County
Council. First, 17th-century biblical texts that had been painted on to
the wall in black lettering on white ground were discovered, protected
by the ivy for the 50 years since the church was last used. Cracks in
the plasterwork, however, suggested that there was something else
The art detectives removed a section and found themselves going back to
the 13th century. Again, cracks in the plaster led them to another
medieval layer. That was when they found the frescoes.
David Park, a leading medieval wall paintings scholar at the Courtauld
Institute in London, said: "I was astounded when I saw these paintings
for the first time." It is estimated that only half the imagery has been
The find is all the more important because Henry VIII, the damp British
climate and the Victorian penchant for stripping church interiors
ensured the obliteration of colourful early Romanesque wall paintings
that were once abundant in Britain.
"These are exceptionally early," said Mr Park, explaining that they
"rather revolutionise" our knowledge of art from this period,
particularly in the development of subject. History books would need to
be rewritten and, for this reason, the frescoes were of international
importance, he said.
Stephen Rickerby, a wall paintings conservator, whose clients include
the Getty Conservation Institute, said: "It is tremendously exciting.
What marks it as special is that quite a lot of Romanesque paintings
survive in Britain. They generally date from 1130 to 1150."
The Anglo-Saxons were known to have painted their church walls, but the
only example to have survived in a small church at Nether Wallop in
Hampshire, dating from 1000 is such a small fragment that it pales
against this discovery.
Julian Hunt, of English Heritage, which is overseeing the project with
the council, said: "If it were in a cathedral, that would be
extraordinary enough. The fact that it's in a parish church in the
middle of such an isolated spot is quite mind-boggling."
He explained that the drapery was among stylistic features identifying
it as very early Romanesque. The compositions on the east gable include
the Holy Trinity with God seated with Christ and the Holy Ghost as a
Mr Park said that the representation of Christ on the Cross before an
enthroned God is the earliest known depiction of an image that was to
become a standard way of showing that subject throughout Europe in the
Middle Ages; until this find, the earliest such composition was a
northern French manuscript of 1120.
Also on the east gable is a series of faces gazing up to heaven and
busts of saints in roundels, and other figures rising out of coffins at
the Resurrection. The west gable bears a demonic figure grasping at what
looks like an ankle. There is another scene on the north wall that has
yet to be identified; it seems to be a figure of Christ.
Unfortunately, it will be years before the public will be able to see
the paintings. Conservation will be a slow process and will not begin
until environmental monitoring and pigment analysis, for example, have
been conducted. There is also the ethical dilemma of how much to save of
the later periods.
Normally, scholars would be delighted to find 13th-century imagery, Mr
Rickerby said, adding that there were at least two medieval layers
there. Traces of rare pigments reflect that the painting would be "a
ghost of what it was", he said. "But that is to be expected. It may be
faint, but it is remarkable."
He added: "The sad thing is that almost every church in England had a
scheme like this. We've lost so much. It is such
a little church, yet it has an amazing scheme."
English Heritage and Norfolk County Council have shared the £40,000 cost
of erecting a roof, making the structure sound and protecting the church
from the elements and wildlife. It is part of their extensive work in
tackling the ruined churches of Norfolk.
Caroline Babington, the project's head of wall paintings conservation,
said: "The paintings are absolutely stunning, a once-in-a-lifetime
experience. To think that they have been tucked away in the middle of
The unnamed church was last in regular service in 1936 but, even then,
was in a poor state of repair. Although designated a ruin, it was never
officially declared redundant and could be returned to use.
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