15 October 2021
Medieval Wall Paintings Evening St Mary's Church
Friday 15th October at 7pm
Come and join us for a talk by local historian, June Davey, on the amazing history of St Mary’s West Horsley and it’s unique 13th century wall paintings.
Tickets £5 to include wine and canapés
Click here to buy a ticket
Please contact the Church Office for further information
English medieval church painting which has survived is a rare treasure which is comparable with the sculpture and miniature painting of the period – it was often the same craftsmen practising all these skills. It is only since the 20th century that English medieval wall painting has taken its place in the revival of interest in medieval art and architecture. Sadly, there does not appear to be an official body to protect such treasures; it is left to the individual churches to raise money for their conservation and St Mary’s is presently faced with this challenge. These precious artefacts have significance in their own right, and importance for their contribution to art, history, sociology and teaching, as well as their powerful spiritual aspect.
Most medieval churches in this country were painted, many with scenes from the Bible and the life of Christ. They would be repaired and replaced if they became damaged; sometimes new murals would supersede the originals. When the Reformation came, all screens, carved and painted images and wall paintings were obliterated and covered with limewash. The wall paintings at St Mary’s were concealed in this way. The most devastating period of destruction for many church paintings was the Victorian period when, in the 19th century, plaster was stripped to reveal stonework. Many wall paintings were ruined, so the limewash covering served St Mary’s well.
Purpose and Meaning of Church Wall Paintings
The purpose of the medieval artist’s work was worship and devotion, but above all to teach. The teaching aspect of the painting was fundamental; printed books did not appear until the end of the 15th century. The Bible and Service Books had to be written out by hand, and only the wealthy could afford to buy them. Even if books had been accessible, more than 80% of the village congregation were illiterate. The village priest, in that early period, was no scholar, and the paintings on the church walls were his visual aids in preaching to his villagers the principles of Christianity and the stories of Christ and the saints.
Medieval church paintings contained special signs, gestures and attitudes to help people understand the story and message and these characteristics can be seen in the paintings at St Mary’s.
St Mary’s wall paintings were finally uncovered in the 1970s, when they were analysed by the Courtauld Institute who carried out some conservation work. Since then, the paintings have deteriorated and are in urgent need of expert attention.
The total cost to carry out the immediate conservation work needed on the most vulnerable areas of the paintings is £12,000. The church has been successful in securing a grant of £6,000 towards this cost from Church Care with financial support from the Pilgrim Trust and the Radcliff Trust. We are now looking to fundraise the shortfall to help protect them for future generations.