New trail for medieval church paintings in England

medieval church paintingsThe church of St Mary the Virgin in the little village of Lakenheath, Suffolk, England, contains a treasure trove of medieval church paintings. They were discovered 130 years ago when Victorian workmen were cleaning off centuries of grime and lime wash from the walls.

What they found was a series of detailed paintings of religious subjects painted from c.1220-c.1610. The church was repainted five times in that period.

A few years ago it was noticed that exposure to air, light, and moisture was destroying the paintings, and a painstaking restoration project was launched. The Lakenheath Wall Paintings Project has since restored the paintings and interpreted all five periods. Reconstructions of how the church looked during these periods can be seen on the website, as well as a rich gallery of closeup shots of the paintings.

They’ve also designed a cool Suffolk Wall Painting Trail that you can download for free. Suffolk is especially rich in wall paintings with several churches clustered together, making them easy to visit.

To learn more about this style of art, check out my review and photo gallery of the book Medieval Wall Paintings in English and Welsh Churches.

It was not possible to obtain permission to use one of the Lakenheath photos at press time. The above photo, of souls sheltering under the cloak of the Virgin Mary, is from the church of St John the Baptist, Byford. It’s similar in style to the paintings at Lakenheath.

Bench 2.0: the strangest seat in Bury St. Edmunds

In 2001, sleepy Bury St. Edmunds, England received an interesting gift, ultimately from Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. In the Abbey Garden, the town’s centerpiece, is what the locals claim to be the world’s first internet-enabled bench. Sponsored by MSN.co.uk, the seat contains jacks for internet cables and is said to provide direct access to the web. Unfortunately, the development has been rendered irrelevant already, thanks to the ubiquity of wireless internet access in Europe and around the world. Since I no longer travel with an arm’s length of Category 5 cable, I don’t know if the access from the bench works … though tour guide Anthony Mitchell referred to its functionality in the present tense.

Today, two cultures coexist comfortably in the Abbey Garden. The latest generation bench sits amid ruins from more than half a millennium ago. I guess there are worst settings for checking your Twitter feed!

Disclosure: Visit Britain shelled out some cash for this experience, and British Airways supplied the flights. I do wonder, though, if they would have liked me to write about anything else from the four hours I spent in St. Edmundsbury. We spent about five minutes at the bench, after all.