Humanities - Parish paintings

From dragons to the crucifixion, church walls have stories to tell

Jerome Monahan

Here is an opportunity to make an extraordinary journey. It lasts more than a thousand years and is a compelling way of exploring the history and shifting state of Christian belief in England. Young writers and artists will encounter dragons and mermaids, and much else to fire their imaginations.

Access to such riches is available because of a new venture from the Churches Conservation Trust - an interactive website celebrating the heritage of church wall painting in many of the 341 buildings it protects. The first incarnation of the site contains images of some of the best preserved wall paintings from 24 of the 80 or so churches that boast such decorations.

"It is remarkable that so much has survived," says Dr Miriam Gill, a lecturer in architectural history at the University of Leicester and the author of the entertaining notes on the wall paintings website. "Unlike frescoes, these images were usually painted directly on to dry plaster. Such thin layers of paint are particularly vulnerable." According to Dr Gill, the covering up with whitewash of these often elaborate and brightly coloured picture sequences after the Reformation may have protected some that might otherwise have vanished.

And what splendours have survived. It is seasonal perhaps to highlight those depicting the life of Christ and the Passion, and some of the most detailed of these are to be found at St John's Church in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. Here, most unusually, St Joseph of Arimathea is painted asking Pontius Pilate for the body of Christ. In another striking example at St Lawrence's Church in Broughton, Buckinghamshire, an odd pieta shows various sinners holding portions of the dead Messiah. This mysterious image, reveals Dr Gill, is actually a moral lesson depicting the literal rending of Christ done by those given to profane swearing by parts of His body.

In addition to the directly scriptural images, the website includes a wealth of more secular subjects, such as the Amphisbaena, a dragon with a second head in its tail which can be seen in combat with St George at Broughton, or the mermaid seemingly tempting St Christopher at an undedicated church in Whitcombe, Dorset. Wonderful stuff.

Jerome Monahan is a freelance teacher and journalist who provides Inset and pupil enrichment workshops nationally and internationally. www.visitchurches.org.ukwallpaintings

WHAT ELSE?

Why do graves face east? Why do lecterns feature eagles? Find out with stephana's church layout presentation.

Journey through the Reformation with pupils: Susan Reed explores why Henry VIII and Martin Luther rejected Catholicism.

IN THE FORUMS

GCSE history is to become "harder" from 2013: teachers are debating whether or not the current curriculum is too limited and too easy. What's your take on the issue?

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources029.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Jerome Monahan

Latest stories

Schools need to be ready for any blame pushed onto teachers by unhappy pupils

GCSE results day 2021: How to handle TAG unhappiness

What should a teacher do if a student blames them for not getting the GCSE grade they think they deserve this year? Tes rounds up advice for those preparing for that possibility
Grainne Hallahan 5 Aug 2021
Teacher assessed grades, TAGs, results day 2021

SQA results day 2021: how we got here

It’s been a frenetic year – with exams were cancelled and the SQA due to be replaced – so here’s a recap of events on the road to results day
Emma Seith 5 Aug 2021