Medieval wall paintings in Northamptonshire come alive with light to reveal all

The medieval wall paintings in St Botolph’s Church in the small village of Slapton are some of the finest that remain in England, but the church’s old fluorescent lighting has been hindering their conservation and appreciation of the rare 14th and 15th Century wall paintings by visitors.

Allchurches Trust awarded a grant towards a new LED lighting scheme that will both light the paintings and serve for worship in the church. It also means the rare and significant paintings can be better monitored for signs of deterioration and damage.

The new lighting in St Botolph’s will bring this important English village church into line with best preservation practice, common throughout France and Italy, where specialist lighting of historically significant wall paintings is the norm.

Project Manager, James Miller, said: “The Courtauld has monitored the wall paintings since the 1970s and undertook conservation work to secure them in the 1990s. They still monitor the paintings’ condition. The new lighting gives off much less heat and reduces the risk of damage; and it has transformed the pleasure of viewing the works and being in the church. It is a remarkable experience.”

Paul Playford, Allchurches grants officer, said: “It is likely, in the 21st century, we see more images in a single day than a 14th Century villager may have seen in their whole life. This is an astounding thought; and the only place those villagers would see images at all was in their parish church.

“Allchurches is pleased to have supported a new lighting scheme for St Botolph’s that will ensure the preservation of these remarkable wall paintings and an appreciation of what an awe-inspiring place the medieval parish church was, and still is of course!”

England’s medieval parish churches were traditionally decorated with wall paintings throughout. Collections of images depicted stories from the Bible, the lives of saints and other Christian subjects. The churches themselves glowed with colour as a result. The widespread destruction of religious imagery throughout the English Reformation saw most of these paintings destroyed, often by whitewashing over the walls.

The St Botolph paintings were discovered beneath whitewashed walls in the mid-19th century, by the wife of the vicar at the time, Revd Edman. They include beautifully coloured, patterned and detailed images of the Annunciation, the Resurrection, St Michael Weighing Souls, Three Living and Three Dead, St Eligius Repairing a Horse, The Devil Knocking Gossips Heads Together and St Francis Receiving the Stigmata, along with a magnificent painting of St Christopher opposite the main church door.

A talisman for travellers, it was believed that to gaze upon an image of St Christopher upon leaving a church would provide protection from evil and harm throughout the rest of that day.

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