Clean-up of chapel painting reveals naked maiden with St George

PUBLISHED: 13:44 18 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:37 06 May 2010

The pebbles under St Andrew's feet can be counted once again

The pebbles under St Andrew's feet can be counted once again

DECADES of dirt and smoke have been stripped away from paintings on the wall of a school chapel - exposing a naked maiden being saved from a dragon. Restoration specialists spent a week at the chapel at St George s School in Harpenden cleaning the two im

DECADES of dirt and smoke have been stripped away from paintings on the wall of a school chapel - exposing a naked maiden being saved from a dragon.

Restoration specialists spent a week at the chapel at St George's School in Harpenden cleaning the two impressive wall paintings on either side of the altar wall.

Ninety years of dirt and smoke were removed from the pictures of St George and St Andrew which were painted in 1919 by art master Wilfred Walter in what were originally vivid colours.

And head teacher Norman Hoare, preaching at the two traditional beginning-of-term Sunday services, explained that the work had been paid for by a former pupil.

Mr Hoare told the congregation that the pupil would count the pebbles at St Andrew's feet to relieve the boredom of former headmaster's sermons.

That pupil also had a child at the school and when he came back to a recent service and realised that from his old seat he could not see the pebbles anymore, he decided it was time to clean the paintings.

Mr Hoare explained that the annual Christmas carol services in the candle-lit chapel had not helped the quality of the paint which was applied to canvas using a 17th-century French technique called marouflage.

He added: "It was a fantastic offer and our generous supporter arranged everything. The cleaning has been magnificent and a lot of detail has been revealed including the naked maiden Cappadocia who hides in the trees behind St George who, as one expects, is killing the dragon."

The work was carried out by Lithgows, conservators of wall paintings, using specialist materials and sponges with traditional fine painting brushes to work methodically across the canvases which are three times life size and often used as visual aids during chapel assemblies and sermons.

Mr Hoare said: "I was preaching on the joy of Christianity and the disappointment I find that our Western churches don't have smiling faces and happy scenes portrayed.

"I admitted publicly that I asked Sue, one of the conservators, to put a grin on St Andrew's face and even St George's could have been slightly smiling in triumph but she wouldn't do it. She told me it was not her role to change the artist's intentions!"

The restoration work was completed just in time for the start of term when the chapel received more than 300 new specially-made wooden chairs to replace some which were as old as the paintings.

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