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The Marston Doom Painting

According to a pamphlet written by E Clive Rouse, MBE, FSA almost every church in England during the middle ages and up to the Reformation in the 16th century had a painted representation of the Last Judgement usually placed in the most prominent position in the church. This painting, also known as the Doom, was usually located over the chancel arch facing the congregation. The details vary between churches, but the general arrangement is similar so even fragments can be interpreted.  

The Marston Moretaine example is located in the space between the rood loft and the chancel arch and the roof, 16 feet across and 11 feet high. The theme is based on St Matthew 25, 30-41 with Christ seated on a rainbow at the top centre. His feet are on a sphere divided into three to show His dominion over the elements of the earth, air and water and He is draped to show the five wounds. The Virgin interceding for the Souls stands on His immediate right with St Peter receiving saved souls at the gate of Jerusalem. John the Baptist is to His immediate left and to his left the Mouth of Hell represented as a monster’s jaws with damned souls crammed inside with more seen below in a cauldron.  

Flying angels can be seen behind and above these figures with one blowing a trumpet. The centre of the picture shows a representation of the General Resurrection with souls in various poses rising from tombs and graves.  

Although fragmentary the Marston painting is of interest for a number of reasons. It is almost entirely painted in yellow-ochre, black and white with sparing touches of red. Although the artistic standard is not considered to be high the decorative and moral impact of the huge and vivid picture on the congregation would have been immense.   

The painting is late in date, possibly referred to in will of William Wodill (or Odell) dated 20 November 1505 and proved 28 January 1505/6. Wodill died in the winter of 1505/6 and left 3s. 4d. towards the painting, but it is unclear if this was towards its repainting and repair or for its creation. Archaeological evidence appears to suggest the latter is most likely. The sum Wodill bequeaths would not have been large enough to cover the whole cost so it indicates that others would have contributed.

Wodill appears to have been a yeoman, cultivating the land he owned a part, if not all, of. He owned at least 8 acres of his holding with over a dozen sheep, an ox team, an ox yoke, a cart and three horses. His will shows him to be comfortably off. It lists his clothes, including a best gown of russet, and his furniture items include two coffers with various blankets and linens. There was also more than one spit for cooking, 6 pewter platters and painted cloths hung for decoration one showing the story of Job and another the crucifixion. William’s wife Alice died later in 1506 and her will includes many bequests to churches, friends and relations.  

The area of the church that the painting is located in has undergone many changes over the years. There are indications that there may have been an earlier painting beneath the 1506 one. The rood, loft and screen were removed at the Reformation, possibly about 1547, and the Doom was whitewashed out. Texts were painted on the whitewash, probably the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Commandments (also known as the Sentences) and a Stuart Royal Arms, parts of which are preserved in the Church.  

The whole painting was fully uncovered, cleaned and consolidated in 1969. Plaster repairs were carried out and later fragments taken down under the direction of E Clive Rouse.  

Further information  

  • CRT130MAR/5: Pamphlet entitled 'The Marston Doom Painting' by E. Clive Rouse with notes compiled by archives staff
  • P41/2/1/14: Faculty to clean the area of wall above the Chancel arch of the Church so as to recover and consolidate the fifteenth century Doom painting, 23 June 1969