Sunday, 1 July 2012
From Painted Faith to Millennium Mural
The medieval paintings in the chancel at St Mary's church, Brook (left) are still impressive, though little more than a shadow of their 13th-century multicoloured glory, a remnant of a lost world of painted faith.
Having begun at Brook, the walk ended at the isolated church of St Cosmas and St Damian at Challock. Here, amazingly, are three sets of 20th-century wall paintings. In the 1950s, in response to the loss of the church's stained-glass windows to wartime bomb damage, two art students, Rosemary Aldridge and Doreen Lister, painted the north chapel with cheery, vapid rural scenes and episodes from the lives of Cosmas and Damian, and a couple of years later the up-and-coming John Ward was invited to paint the chancel with scenes from the life of Jesus. On display in the church at present is a letter in which he fondly remembers how, with his friend and fellow artist Gordon Davies, he enjoyed the summer painting at the remote church, sleeping in the sexton's hut and relying on the nearby farmhouse for supplies (shades of J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country).
Then, in 1999, Ward was invited to paint a Millennium mural on the north wall of the nave, facing the door. This depicts Christ - looking rather like a gaucho in his wide-brimmed hat - riding casually into, er, Challock. As with the gospel scenes in the chancel, the action is set in the local landscape, with the villagers looking on, participating, or going about their business. The overall effect of these 20th-century murals - there are some images here - is agreeable enough, but to compare them with the medieval paintings at Brook is to realise just how world-changingly far the Sea of Faith had receded in the course of the intervening centuries. For good and ill.