The conservators have left, the scaffolding has been removed and after months hidden from view, the historic interior of St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Park is revealed.
An international team of students working with local volunteers and led by acclaimed conservator Jane Rutherfoord have been working on conserving the medieval wall paintings and along the way have made some fascinating discoveries.
The conservation of the 15th century nave wall painting of St Christopher had long been anticipated but no one could have predicted what would be found beneath the two plaques erected during the 18th century.
When the Hardyman family memorials were removed (and re-positioned in the south porch) the conservators made an amazing find – a medieval niche that had once contained a statue of St Christopher. And what’s more, once the rubble infill had been removed part of the head of the statue was also discovered.
The destruction of the niche took place during the turbulent Reformation period when church iconography, the symbols of the old religion, were destroyed, wall paintings covered over and statues smashed. Perhaps the person instructed to destroy the niche found the task too painful and had concealed the head of the statue to protect it. Whatever the story, the discovery adds yet another layer to the long history of the church.
High up in the Tudor barrel vaulted ceiling a collection of carved corbels look down on the congregation beneath. One is believed to be a likeness of Margaret Beaufort, half sister to the 15th century St John family and mother of Henry VII. During the conservation work it was discovered that the corbels had once been brightly painted and it was decided that the two by the chancel arch should be restored to their original colour palette.
Also revealed was the full extent of the Christ the Crown of Thorns wall painting in the south porch, yet another of the discoveries made during the conservation work.
The church will close again after Christmas when further work is due to commence.
… and after restoration
15th century wall painting before conservation
… and after
Christ the Crown of Thorns wall painting in the south porch
Carved faces on the original entrance to the church show signs of damage inflicted during the Reformation
The conserved 17th century Coat of Arms