Medieval wall paintings to be brought to life at St Albans Cathedral

PUBLISHED: 09:01 05 October 2019

The medieval wall paintings recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun Kataria

The medieval wall paintings recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun Kataria

Archant

Medieval wall paintings from the 13th to 16th centuries have been recreated as part of guided tours at St Albans Cathedral using 21st-century technology.

The medieval wall painting of St Thomas recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun KatariaThe medieval wall painting of St Thomas recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun Kataria

Light projections depicting the paintings are going to be emblazoned on the south-facing walls of the nave this autumn, to recreate where they stood during medieval times.

The paintings were reconstructed as part of the cathedral's redevelopment project - 'Alban, Britain's First Saint' - which is being funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Professor Michael A. Michael, of the University of Glasgow, and Craig Williams, head of illustration in the Britain, Europe and prehistory department at the British Museum, worked on the project alongside chair of St Albans Cathedral Guides Julia Low.

The medieval wall painting of Saints Alban and Amphibalus recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun KatariaThe medieval wall painting of Saints Alban and Amphibalus recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun Kataria

They focused on the four largest images of saints in the nave to digitally reconstruct, which depict St Christopher carrying Jesus across a river, former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, St Sitha of Lucca and a narrative scene from the story of saints Alban and Amphibalus.

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Professor Michael said: "The illuminations project is an example for other churches with fragmentary, damaged and vandalised wall paintings of how they can be brought to life again."

The medieval wall painting of St Christopher recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun KatariaThe medieval wall painting of St Christopher recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun Kataria

While the damage to the paintings was significant, enough of the outlines remain to attempt to reconstruct them using archaeological techniques.

The experts were able to build up the paintings' histories from scratches and cross-hatching indicating where they were defaced in the 1500s, and were able to identify what colours were used and the finer features of the saints' faces. After producing line drawings, the pictures were then recoloured using reference colours from within the cathedral itself, as well as historical documents, to create a series of clear, bright images which are reminiscent of the originals.

The Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, dean of St Albans Cathedral, said: "We have long wanted to lift the veil of time to see how the paintings might have appeared.

The medieval wall painting of St Sitha recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun KatariaThe medieval wall painting of St Sitha recreated at St Albans Cathedral. Picture: Arun Kataria

"Thanks to the generosity of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we have been able to do this, and seeing them helps us to understand why pilgrims of the Middle Ages are said to have fallen to their knees in wonder."

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