Saxon wall painting uncovered in Wiltshire church

In the quiet countryside of Wiltshire, within the ancient walls of St Mary’s Church in Alton Barnes, a discovery of remarkable historical significance was recently made!

Conservator Peter Martindale has uncovered a medieval wall painting that was hidden for centuries inside the church. 

It might trace its origins back to Saxon times and is an extraordinary find! 

Back to the Saxon era

The initial layers of this fascinating artwork suggest it could belong to a period much earlier than previously believed. 

The presence of red and orange ochres forming a border hints at a sophistication and artistic expression characteristic of early medieval times. 

Intriguingly, small fish motifs discovered at the bottom of the wall painting have led to speculation that the artwork might depict St Christopher, a subject often found in medieval church art which symbolizes safe passage and protection.

How was it discovered? 

The church, which is located near the town of Marlborough, was due to be decorated.

When the walls were stripped, two historical paintings beneath centuries of overpainting and memorials were discovered!

The oldest layer, possibly dating back to the Saxon era, sits beneath a later medieval layer believed to be from the 15th Century. 

This revelation came after careful removal of family memorials and layers of paint added throughout the centuries which had concealed the artwork from view.

What’s the significance of St Mary’s Church? 

St Mary’s Church has been a revered site of worship for over a thousand years, and it’s one of England’s oldest and smallest churches with Saxon origins. 

Its walls have been silent witnesses to the ebb and flow of English religious life, including the tumultuous Reformation period! 

It was during this time, under Henry VIII’s decree, that many such “Popish adornments” were whitewashed or destroyed, which meant that a lot of artwork was hidden. 

The fact that this artwork has now been discovered could be a nod to what else lies in UK churches!

The church is near Marlborough in Wiltshire

Future preservation

The unveiling of the painting has ignited a passion for preservation within the church community and beyond. 

Peter Martindale has underscored the significance of this find and the imperative to protect these glimpses into the past. 

The Parochial Church Council (PCC) is now embarking on a fundraising journey to restore and further uncover these layers of history – who knows what else they’ll find? 

Take a look at my list of the best things to do in Dorset here.

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