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Chalgrave Church Wall Paintings

The church from the south-west June 2012
The church from the south-west June 2012

As impressive as the interior of Chalgrave church is, the truly memorable things are the wall paintings. Sadly, only mutilated remains are now left, the whole of the interior having been, no doubt, at one time covered in them. This was standard practice. In an age when the majority of the population could neither read nor write wall paintings served as valuable reminders of Bible stories and articles of faith. Later wall paintings are of texts from the Bible, painted in a more literate age. They were applied to the limewash covering the mediaeval paintings and can still be glimpsed on both walls of the nave and on the south side of the chancel arch.

The paintings were fully uncovered by E. Clive Rouse in 1933 and 1934. In 1935 he wrote a piece for the Archaeological Journal (Volume XCII pages 81-97). He made it clear that they had been known for some time as limewash, probably applied in the 16th century, gradually flaked off. The are mentioned in Volume III of The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire published in 1912. Rouse wrote: “it was eventually decided to undertake the work of uncovering and preserving whatever paintings there might be. This was completed by Easter 1934 under the direction of Professor E. W. Tristram, who very kindly allowed me to co-operate with him in all the work”.

Wall painting at the west end of the south aisle June 2012
Wall painting at the west end of the south aisle June 2012

The paintings were conserved in the 1980s by the Perry Lithgow Partnership. The various paintings are listed below.

Wall painting at the west end of the north aisle June 2012
Wall painting at the west end of the north aisle June 2012

At the west end of both aisles are figures of the Apostles. These were the twelve followers of Jesus. They appear in niches which wrap around each end as can be seen from the photogaph above

Painting of Saint Thomas of Canterbury in the south aisle June 2012
Painting of Saint Thomas of Canterbury in the south aisle June 2012

On the south wall of the south aisle is the figure of an archbishop. He probably represents Saint Thomas Beckett, the most popular saint in England after his martyrdom in 1170.

Remains of an angel wall painting in the north aisle June 2012
Remains of an angel wall painting in the north aisle June 2012

An angel and other figures can be seen on the north wall of the north aisle. The remains of the image of the angel are still imbued with life and movement.

Paintings of Saint James and Saint Thomas of Canterbury June 2012
Paintings of Saint James and Saint Thomas of Canterbury June 2012

Also on the north wall, near the blocked north doorway are two ecclesiastical figures. These are interpreted as Saint James, brother of Jesus and, once again Thomas Beckett.

The Annunciation at the east end of the north aisle June 2012
Annunciation at the east end of the north aisle June 2012

On the east wall is a picture of the Annunciation. The Archangel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her that she is pregnant with Jesus, the Son of God. All these paintings are reckoned to date from the last decade of the 13th century.

Talbot arms on the south arcade June 2012
Talbot arms on the south arcade June 2012

Along the nave walls and the inner wall of each arcade are various heraldic devices. These include the Loring, Peyvre or Pever and Talbot families. Sir Nigel Loring, Lord of the Manor left two daughters, who married into the Pevyre/Pever and Talbot families. It is reckoned that these shields with their related vines date to the mid to late 14th century. Clive Rouse was able to identify the following families: Bigod or de Burgh; Furnivall; Hardeshull; Lee; Loryng; Montagu; Morteyn; Mounchensy; Perche; Perient; Peyvre; Talbot and Tiptoft.

Painting of Saint Martin of Tours above the south door June 2012
Painting of Saint Martin of Tours above the south door June 2012

The splendid figure of Saint Martin of Tours strides on his horse over the south door. His cloak, which he cut in two to help clothe a beggar, streams out behind him. It seems to be painted over an earlier work.

Remains of the Saint Christopher wall painting in the north aisle June 2012
Remains of the Saint Christopher wall painting in the north aisle June 2012

Saint Christopher is a now shadowy presence in the north aisle. Most of him has now disappeared. These two paintings date from about 1400.