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Breamore’s thousand-year-old church art saved for future generations





CONSERVATION work on a thousand-year-old rare church artwork has excited academics – and will continue to be open to the public gaze.

The rood – an ancient word for cross - can be seen high in the porch at St Mary’s Church in Breamore.

Dr Miriam Gill, a scholar with expertise on late mediaeval wall paintings, has written a report on the imagery and described it as a “significant and important” work of art from a time when depictions of the suffering of Christ were only starting to appear.

Conservator Peter Martindale with the thousand-year-old rood
Conservator Peter Martindale with the thousand-year-old rood

Her input has increased the knowledge of the 11th century life-size bas-relief that shows Christ crucified, with Mary and John on either side. The rood and associated later paintings in the south porch date from the Middle Ages when the room was used as a chapel.

Expert conservator Peter Martindale spent a month on the project, working on scaffolding to secure flaking paint and areas of detached plaster, removing microbiological growth and filling cracks.

St Mary's Church at Breamore with the ancient artwork in a loft above the porch on the left
St Mary's Church at Breamore with the ancient artwork in a loft above the porch on the left

Originally within the church, the ‘rood’ was moved to its current position in the 14th or 15th centuries. The other walls then painted with images, including a depiction of Judas hanging from a tree, and drops of blood.

But its obscure location did not protect the rood and in the 16th century it was defaced, leaving hundreds of chisel gouges.

Dr Gill said: “This is extraordinary - a significant and important work of art, with extra resonance at Easter.

The medieval rood artwork featuring Christ on the cross flanked by Mary and John
The medieval rood artwork featuring Christ on the cross flanked by Mary and John

“The rood was likely defaced after 1547 when orders came down to destroy things like this because they were considered religiously wrong during the Reformation.”

Peter Martindale said: “When I first climbed up into the porch, with a scaffold platform at the level of the medieval floor, I had a sense of what those people 600 years ago felt within the chapel. It would have been an incredible religious space and was like nothing I’ve felt before.”

The church porch with medieval painting including script and painted blood drops
The church porch with medieval painting including script and painted blood drops

He added: “To work on something almost 1,000 years old, which has such a history, is a great privilege. It had been conserved in 1980, but required some more work to keep it stable.”

Church warden Andy Finch said: “It is an astonishing survivor, a leap back to the Christianity practised in the church a thousand years ago. We feel that it is our responsibility to ensure this Anglo-Saxon rood is there for the next generation.”

He added: “It is there for everyone to see when the church is open.”



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