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Marking Time? A fifteenth-century liturgical calendar in the wall paintings of Pickering parish church, North Yorkshire

Marking Time? A fifteenth-century liturgical calendar in the wall paintings of Pickering parish church, North Yorkshire

By Kate Giles

Church Archaeology, Vol.4 (2000)

Introduction: This article is concerned with the interpretation of a cycle of fifteenth-century wall paintings in the parish church of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Pickering was a Saxon foundation, but the earliest phases of the present building date to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with substantial additions of the fourteenth and fifteenth. In 1853 restoration work revealed a series of wall paintings on the north and south walls of the nave. Despite a local and national outcry, the paintings were subsequently whitewashed, and only rediscovered and restored in 1876-8.

The images within the cycle vary in terms of their scale and subject matter (figs. 3-6). Some occupy the full height of the wall, but others are much smaller and form part of horizontally banded narrative scenes. They include popular saints such as George, Christopher, John the Baptist, Edmund, Thomas a Beckett and Catherine, narrative scenes from the Passion and the Death of the Virgin and moral subjects such as the Corporal Acts of Mercy. They have been dated on stylistic grounds to c.1450. Although the basic structure and iconography of the scheme survived the events of the nineteenth century, much of the original detail and pigment was destroyed by the whitewashing of 1853 and restoration of 1876-8. This has meant that the cycle has been largely overlooked by art historians.

This paper attempts to reassert the importance of the Pickering wall paintings in the light of an ongoing programme of archaeological research on the church. The article seeks to explore not only the iconographic content of the scheme, but also the rigid disciplinary divisions between art history, architectural history and archaeology which often results in the inter-relationship of medieval artistic decoration, architectural structure and social space being overlooked.

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