St Peter's Church

All the Medieval wallpaintings at St Peter's church, Preston Park date from the later 13th century and were probably painted shortly after the church was completed. Even after the disastrous fire of 1906 the church contains some fascinatingly graphic images, including an early depiction of the martyrdom of St Thomas and a rare symbolic representation of the Nativity.

Look out for

The demon trying to pull down the scale pan 

Understanding the building

The present late 13th-century church replaced an earlier building. The nave was extensively restored in 1872. The chancel was remodelled five years later by Ewan Christian in a lavish scheme which An illustration, showing how the wall paintings at St Peters, Preston Park, appeared before the 1906 fireincluded stencilled wallpainting. The whole church was extensively damaged by a fire in 1906 and the chancel subsequently received a second scheme of painted decoration in a Medieval style. 

Chancel arch

A watercolour of 1880 by Miss P. Wakerley records the wallpaintings on the east wall prior to the fire of 1906. The area was lavishly painted with a foliage backdrop for the rood cross and a lost upper tier with scenes of the Resurrection (top left) and figures of saints. 

Murdering St Thomas Becket

On the left of the chancel arch is one of the earliest representations of the death of St Thomas in English wallpainting. We can see: 

  • The stricken saint on his knees, hands spread out in a gesture of acceptance Murder of Thomas of Cantebury
  • a prominent altar with steps, cloths and a golden chalice
  • four knights with swords (only the lower half of the left-most knight is visible) in late thirteenth-century armour and long shields
  • Blood pouring from the saint's head and one of the knight's stirring his brains with his sword.
  • Edward Grim, Becket's posthumous biographer shown here with halo, standing on the right side of the altar, holding a service book in his left hand and with blood flowing from his right hand, as he tries to defend the archbishop

Weighing of soulsSt Michael weighting the Souls

On the right side of the chancel arch is a Weighing of the Souls. The details we can make out are:

  • St Michael the Archangel on the left (his head and the tops of his wings destroyed in the fire) holding a large set of scales in his left hand and pointing an accusing finger at the demon
  • A small figure of the Virgin Mary to the right pulling the left-hand scale pan down by its chain
  • a naked praying figure representing the soul being judged
  • A cheeky red demon in the right-hand pan, holding on with both hands with his tail curling over the right side – trying to force the scales

North wall 

Nativity at Preston parkThe paintings on the north wall are now hard to decipher. There were tiers: the Last Supper (upper), the Nativity (middle), busts of three kings (lower). The Nativity showed the Christchild in a manger shaped like a chalice and included the figures of the midwives described in the apocryphal gospels.details of chancel arch in the chancel at Preston park

Decorated chancel

Although it dates from after the fire of 1906 the decoration in the chancel continues the tradition of the medieval-style schemes popularised by the 19th-century Gothic Revival, which reproduced Medieval foliage and heraldic motifs. The richly-coloured fictive cloths of honour in the sedilia contrast with the restrained tones of the wall decoration. The area below the dado is a chequerboard pattern while the splays of the windows and the chancel west wall have more elaborate motifs of stylised foliage and sacred monograms. The carefully-reproduced motifs and subdued palette indicate a serious attempt to reproduce the appearance of Medieval wallpainting. 

Discovery & conservation

Two wallpaintings at St Peter's church, Preston ParkThe wallpaintings were first uncovered in or shortly before 1830 by the Rev. Charles Townsend. They were found during the removal of a later scheme of the Ten Commandments from the chancel arch and it is likely that the fragile upper layers of pigment were lost at this time; basic outlines are all that no remains.                                                                                                                                

In 1873, some of the paintings were extensively 're-touched' and covered with a 'preservative' coating, however; the figure of the Virgin interceding in the Weighing of Souls was mistakenly repainted as an angel. After the fire of 1906 destroyed the upper tier of painting on the nave east wall and badly damaged the remainder, a further coating was applied to preserve the surviving paintings. In 1977 E. Clive Rouse conserved the remaining paintings, reducing the layers of coating and over-painting. The paintings were further conserved by Anne Ballantyne in 1999. 

Find out more about the north wall wallpaintings at Preston Park

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