News by email Donate


Danny Lawson/PA Wire
UK News

Call to protect church's 'irreplaceable' historic wall paintings from damp and decay

by Press Association

The artworks, some of which are older than those in the Sistine Chapel, are also often under threat because of the complexity of preserving them in the ancient, crumbling buildings they decorate.

English Heritage has launched an appeal to support the conservation of the artistic treasures in its care to stop them disappearing from view altogether.

The heritage charity cares for 77 wall paintings across the country, from the painted walls at Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent to the Victorian gothic decoration at St Mary's Church, Studley Royal in North Yorkshire.

Many decorate the walls of medieval abbeys, priories and churches, with religious scenes including the internationally-important art at St Mary's Church, Kempley in Gloucestershire, English Heritage said.

But they are under threat of deterioration and decay for a number of reasons, not least the weather.

Unlike well-preserved paintings in France and Italy, which benefit from a warmer climate, the damp, wet conditions often found in England can cause damage to the fragile artworks.

Danny Lawson/PA Wire
English Heritage collections conservator (North) Caroline Rawson, conducts a condition audit of wall paintings at St Mary's Church in North Yorkshire, as English Heritage launches an appeal to support the conservation of the artistic treasures in its care to stop them disappearing from view altogether.

And unlike paintings on canvas which can be moved to a suitable place to preserve them best, such as a climate-controlled gallery, wall paintings by their nature are fixed to their historic surroundings.

This means that the conservation challenges faced by centuries-old medieval or even Roman buildings also extend to their paintings.

On top of this, early 20th century efforts to restore images have done more harm than good, with practices such as the use of soluble nylon to prevent damage causing increased flaking of paint, English Heritage said.

The organisation is undertaking an audit of all its wall paintings to assess the extent of the deterioration and what needs to be done to preserve them, while experts have recently done urgent work on those most at risk.

These include medieval paintings at Longthorpe Tower in Peterborough, First World War graffiti at Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire, and securing the Archer Pavilion roof at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire.

Conservation work includes examining layers of paint with imaging techniques that reveal the painting's condition in ways invisible to the naked eye, and undoing outdated methods of preserving the pictures.

Rachel Turnbull, English Heritage's Senior Collections Conservator, said: "Wall paintings are the most challenging type of art to care for, but they offer a precious insight into England's story.

"For thousands of years people of the past have left little traces, glimpses into their everyday lives through richly decorated wall paintings.

"Be they domestic or religious, these artworks tell a story about the people who painted them and the communities who lived or worshipped in these buildings centuries ago."

And she urged: "If they are to survive for future generations to enjoy, we need the public's help today to repair their buildings, stabilise their structures and protect them from damp and decay before time runs out."

Stay up to date with the latest news stories from a Christian perspective. Sign up to our daily newsletter and receive more stories like this straight to your inbox every morning.

A Monthly Gift Of $11 Makes A World Of Difference

In a world of fake news there’s never been a greater need for quality Christian journalism. Premier’s mission is to provide the Church with the most up to date and relevant news, told from a Christian perspective. But we can’t do it without you.

Unlike many websites we haven't put up a paywall — we want to keep our journalism free at the point of need and as open as we can. Premier’s news output takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. No one in the USA is sharing news like we are across radio, magazines and online so please help us to continue that today.

For a monthly gift of $11 or more we’d also be able to send you a free copy of the brand new Premier Bible, a wonderful Anglicised version of the NLT packed with exclusive bonus content, reading plan and resources to help you get the most out of scripture.

Your monthly support will make a world of difference. Thank you.

Support Us
Continue the conversation on our Facebook page

Related Articles

Sign up to our newsletter to stay informed with news from a Christian perspective.

News by email