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The Medieval Wall Paintings of St. Mary Belchamp Walter

One of the most striking features of St. Mary Belchamp Walter are the Medieval murals on the North wall. The exact dates when these paintings were made is not known exactly, the dates are approximately 1350 (this being quoted by other websites). This raises the question whether the paintings pre or post date the Chantry, or even were they contemporary with each other?

The Medieval paintings in St. Mary the Virgin, Belchamp Walter were probably white-washed over by the Victorians and before. The majority of the examples on the North Wall are pierced by the 14c. Chantry Chapel opening, which itself was defaced and removed by the Puritans in the Civil War. The church and its antiquity have not escaped vandlelism over the centries.

The Medieval wall painting in St Mary the Virgin Belchamp Walter
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Taken from an information sheet that used to be available in the church are a few notes that I have added on this page and referenced them to other pages and to research that I could find. I was unable to find out any additional information on Mrs. Baker of The Pilgrim Trust - anyone reading this has any information regarding this please let me know and I would gladly add it to this website and credit it to you.

Description of the murals on the North Wall of the Nave St. Mary the Virgin

Some of the text is "clickable" and will take you to more information.

The linked photographs largely come from Stiffleaf, who I would like to thank for the fine reproduction.

" Also on the North Wall can be seen Mural Paintings of unusual interest, particularly that of the Madonna to whom the Church is dedicated. Prior to 1962 this painting had been partially visible and in 1962, along with other paintings was restored by an expert who was a Mrs Baker; she was engaged through the auspices of The Pilgrim Trust.

Her initial comments regarding the Madonna are as follows “I discovered a text partially obscuring the painting, which is of 14th Century date. And I cleaned off the text to reveal an extremely lovely painting finely drawn and over life size in scale. It is probably an altar painting, bearing in mind the dedication of the church. I know of no better painting of this subject - it is the most entirely satisfactory treatment I have ever seen”.

The Virgin is crowned with her long hair flowing over her shoulders, and she is suckling her Child who is supported on her left knee, with tracings of censing angels on either side and a bird can just be made out on top of the canopy - possible a falcon.

The boldness of the drawing and the treatment of the eyes are typical of the period (XIVth Century).
The long hair is said to have been a sign of virginity but the crown is unusual, although it has been known as far back as the XIIth Century when a sceptre was sometimes seen - as Queen of Heaven. The figure at the bottom right of the painting is thought to be the Patron worshipping the Virgin with his beads. The painting is reminiscent of that at Great Canfield in Essex, which is attributed to Matthew Paris, and could well be by the same hand. "

North Wall above the Chantry arch

From the information sheet in the church:

" The restoration then moved onto the remainder of the North wall where she uncovered two tiers of paintings. These are not by the same painter but nevertheless are interesting, in the top tier there are six subjects, and in the lower tier four subjects, but one of these is very hard to make out. The paintings are mostly in red ochre but also some are in yellow. They can be identified as follows; "

Upper Tier:

" Upper Tier - looking from left to right:
1. Christ entering the Gate of Jerusalem on a donkey which is in yellow ochre.

2. The Gate of Jerusalem. A small head is looking down from the battlements. Slight traces of a figure can be seen in the archway.

3. Christ kneeling and washing the feet of Peter.

4. The Last Supper. Judas is seen stealing the bag of money and a fish from the table.

5. The Betrayal, Judas, Christ and two Soldiers.

6. Christ before Pontius Pilate. Christ’s hands are bound and He is blindfolded. "

Lower Tier:

" 1. The martyrdom of Saint Edmund. He is bound to a tree and being shot by the Danes with bows and arrows.

2. This is indecipherable.

3. A large “Pelican in Piety” painted in red, pecking at her breasts and so drawing blood to feed her five chicks.

4. This subject is in some doubt, but appears to be a King, Queen and a Courtier bearing a Hawk. Which have been identified as the first part of “The Three Living and the Three Dead”. The legend goes back to a time long before the church was built. The form in which the legend was known to the medieval artists was inspired by four short 13th century poems. The best known of these,’Li troi vif et li troi mors’, was written by Baudouin de Conde, minstrel to the court of Margaret II, countess of Flanders, 1244-80. As the salient features, reproduced again and again in village churches, are contained in Baudouin’s poem of 160 lines. The poem describes an encounter of three gay young men, when walking, with three Deaths, whom they see coming towards them’lait et disfigure de cors’. The first youth is so horrified that he flees in terror; the second, who is of sterner stuff, hails the apparition as sent by God; while the third dwells on the horror of decaying humanity. The youths speak to the grim visitors and the first Death replies in words which are the keynote of the whole morality.
‘Tel seres vous et tel comme ore
Estes, fumes, ja fu li ore’.
(What you are, we were, and what we are, you will be.)

The second recalls that Death treats rich and poor alike, while the third emphasises that there is no escape from his dread summons. "

Note on 4 (above)

Since the writing of the information sheet in the Church much more information has come to light regarding this wall painting. The painting is almost a direct copy of the miniature that is found in the Arendal Psalter, much larger or course, and is the Three Living from "The Three Living and Three Dead".

St Edmund

See my page

from Wikip:

" Edmund the Martyr (also known as St Edmund or Edmund of East Anglia, died 20 November 869 was king of East Anglia from about 855 until his death. "

Other wall paintings

Pages on these frescos are also featured on this website

" In 1964 Mrs Baker returned to look at the South Wall but the results were disappointing. The plaster on this wall being in poor condition, details had become obliterated, but portions of a roundel are seen depicting a figure with arrows and a woman. This is possibly Saint Sebastian, who was wounded with arrows shot at him, the archers leaving him for dead. His wounds were healed by Irene, widow of the martyr Saint Castulus. "

On the South side above the door there appears to be three women with Christ - the Resurrection Scene? Especially as there seems to be a sleeping figure near his right foot.

To the right of the door is an inscription in Old English, this is of a much later date and quotes from the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 20, verse 9): “And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen asleep; and as Paul was long preaching, he sank down with sleep and, fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead”, however the narrative goes on to say he recovered.

In 1996 the whole of the walls containing the paintings was stabilised and cleaned.

Wells Cathedral

A reference to Mrs Eve Baker.

In 1969, when a large chunk of stone fell from a statue near the main door, it became apparent that there was an urgent need for restoration of the west front. Detailed studies of the stonework and of conservation practices were undertaken under the cathedral architect, Alban D. R. Caroe and a restoration committee formed. The methods selected were those devised by Eve and Robert Baker. W. A. (Bert) Wheeler, clerk of works to the cathedral 1935–1978, had previously experimented with washing and surface treatment of architectural carvings on the building and his techniques were among those tried on the statues.

List of murals featured on this website:

The artists and dates of the paintings

The similarity in style to that of Mathew Paris would indicate that the artist(s) where somewhat comtemporary with Paris. It is unlikely that they were Paris' work and more likely to be the work of the monks of Colne Priory

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