Long lost secrets rediscovered at St. Mary’s Church in Lydiard Park can now be seen

By Roger Ogle - 14 October 2019

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Main picture: St Mary's monument dedicated to unifying the nation when King James the Sixth of Scotland also became King James the First of England in 1603. It was originally located on the north wall of the church after Sir John St John, who inherited Lydiard Tregoze and other family estates in Wiltshire, elevated his position by buying a baronetcy from King James for £1,092 pounds (about £100,000 today).

In the 19th Century it was placed over the hidden cross high above the chancel arch, over wall paintings which had been painted over centuries previously. In the early 20th Century it was moved again and mounted on the Jacobian era screen which was built between 1630 to 1640.

The conservation has seen repair of damaged elements, including giving the unicorn a new horn.

Christ the Crown of Thorns was painted over the new South porch door after it was added to St Mary's in 1520. It was lost in 1547 after the edict by Protestant King Edward IV calling for religious idolatry to be destroyed was followed. Queen Elizabeth I would not have seen it when she used the door on her visit to Lydiard Park in September 1592. According to internationally acclaimed conservator Jane Rutherfoord, this representation of Jesus Christ is unique in Europe, showing him without a beard and with blond hair. The modern, metrosexual look is similar in style to how Jesus was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Heritage Lottery funded Stage 2 of the internal conservation of the Church in the Park is complete and can be viewed by the public every Friday until 29 November, 11am to 3pm, as well as Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year (subject to steward availability).

For months the interior of the church has been shrouded in three levels of scaffolding and screening to allow conservators to get close to ancient wall paintings in a poor condition and painted over in the past. The disruption did not prevent St Mary’s continuing to open as a place of worship. The congregation dressed the pews and scaffolding with ivy and fairy lights to give a magical quality to the several weddings that have taken place during the time the walls and ceiling have been hidden from view.

The work was carried out by internationally renowned conservator Jane Ruthrfoord and colleagues. They were joined during ten weeks of the summer by 14 student trainees – selected from some 300 applicants - who travelled to Swindon from the UK, all over the Europe, the USA and Australia. Ten countries were represented.

Visitors can now stand in the doorway of the South Porch as pilgrims did in the past, below a remarkable wall painting of Jesus Christ depicted as a very modern metrosexual. You and look across to the wall paintings on the north wall of the Nave which include Thomas Becket and St Christopher and newly discovered 13th Century patterned wall painting. You will see the newly discovered niche in which there was a statute of St Christopher.

When opening up this niche Jane discovered part of a stone head which was most probably part of the St Christopher statue - pictured. Then turn around and look at the conserved Christ the Crown of Thorns wall painting in which the representation of Christ has been described as unique.

St Mary’s, which has seen continuous Christian worship over 1100 years, received £615,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the £901,605 to conserve its gorgeous interiors. Apart from conserving the significant medieval wall paintings, work included conserving the 17th Century monuments, ancient carved woodwork and star spangled ceiling. The HLF grant and support from other grant making bodies will also enable the church to carry out  environmental and accessibility, re-opening the hidden south porch and creating a welcoming interpretation and activity area.

Opening times to view the Stage 2 internal conservation work
Fridays to 29th November, 11 am – 3pm.
Saturdays and Sundays: 11am - 4pm (including Sunday morning worship), throughout the rest of the year - subject to the availability of stewards.

For private visits please contact: Paul Gardner, Chair St Marys Lydiard Tregoze Conservation Project
07831 868429


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