THE parish church in a small market town is launching an appeal for £1.5 million to conserve medieval wall paintings that are rated among the finest in northern Europe.
The paintings, in the nave of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering, North Yorkshire, date from about 1450. The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described them as one of the most complete set of wall paintings in the country, providing “a vivid idea of what ecclesiastical interiors were really like”.
The Vicar, the Revd Antony Pritchett, said: “I often just sit in the church and say to myself: I am so lucky to be here. I still see new things in them every single day.”
The paintings depict the stories of St George, St Christopher, St John the Baptist (above), the coronation of the Virgin, St Edmund, St Thomas Becket, St Catherine of Alexandria (see gallery), the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy, the passion of Christ, the Harrowing of Hell, and the resurrection (see gallery).
Mr Pritchett said: “I use them when I am preaching. You can talk about heaven, and you have the whole company of heaven just above your head. Some say the Harrowing of Hell is a doom painting; I say it is a wonderfully positive image of Christ, gripping the wrist of Adam, not letting go, but rescuing all the souls of the damned. The paintings continue to have this amazing relevance.”
They survived because they were whitewashed, probably during the Reformation. They were discovered during repairs in 1852, but the incumbent, a Mr Ponsonby, declared them “popish”, and out of place in a Protestant church. He had them covered over again a fortnight later, and they remained hidden until a refurbishment in the 1880s.
About £500,000 is needed for conservation work, and £1 million for improvements, including better lighting and a modern heating system. The church is seeking a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for the work, but needs to raise matching funding of about £150,000.
“We are about a quarter of the way there,” Mr Pritchett said. “We hope people will realise this is of great benefit — not just to Pickering church, but to the town, the Ryedale district, and the wider North Yorkshire economy. They have been called ‘Yorkshire’s Hidden Gem’, and they really are.”