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New roof protects precious paintings

PUBLISHED: 13:37 25 September 2009 | UPDATED: 15:08 03 July 2010

One of the wall paintings at St Mary's Somerton

One of the wall paintings at St Mary's Somerton

A NEW thatched roof has put a protective lid on a set of Medieval wall paintings in one of Norfolk's most historic parish churches.

St Mary's at East Somerton has been the focus of four restoration projects each aimed at safeguarding the building, ahead of any work to conserve the faded scenes, used in their day to illuminate the vicar's sermons for a largely illiterate congregation.

A NEW thatched roof has put a protective lid on a set of Medieval wall paintings in one of Norfolk's most historic parish churches.

St Mary's at East Somerton has been the focus of four restoration projects each aimed at safeguarding the building, ahead of any work to conserve the faded scenes, used in their day to illuminate the vicar's sermons for a largely illiterate congregation.

Churchwarden Pauline Burckitt said she hoped the way was now clear to begin bidding for grants to restore the paintings themselves and possibly discover new ones underneath the numerous coats of whitewash and plaster.

Meanwhile a service of thanksgiving is planned for the local experts who completed this latest restoration project within the £180,000 budget six weeks early.

The project included the complete re-thatch of the nave and porch roofs, using reed cut from within view of the Broadland church's elevated setting, with many of the old medieval timber beams replaced. New Clipsham stone has been cut and used to repair the parapet and porch and a sophisticated drainage system installed to replace the gullies.

But it is the on-going restoration plans' ultimate aim - the restoration of the paintings - that is hopefully now at the front of the queue.

Mrs Burckitt said: “Since 1990 our aim has been to restore the wall paintings and this was our fourth project towards that aim. The paintings were a poor man's bible and the vicar would refer to them to make sense of his sermons. They were covered up in Puritan times when we were not allowed any idolatry and nobody knew they were there until the Victorians found them. Because of all that has been done they are now in limbo and not deteriorating any further.

Parish priest Albert Cadmore who alternates between East Somerton and Horsey said: “We have been generously by major charity funding and in all sorts of ways by our community.

“Projects of this sort of magnitude only get carried through because of the dedication of those that lead the project and I would like to pay tribute to the two church wardens here Pauline Burckitt and Simon Peasley.

“We feel we are custodians of this lovely church. It has been loved and cared for for years and every generation has left its mark, now we want to leave it in a sound state for the next generation.”

Mrs Burckitt added: “People always feel it is a comforting church. You can almost feel the centuries of prayer that have gone on in this place.”

The thanksgiving service on October 3, 3.30pm is open to all and will be attended by the High Sheriff of Norwich and the Bishop of Norwich.

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