Banburyshire’s hidden treasure in a battle for salvation

St Christopher with the baby Jesus is the largest painting on the walls inside Slapton Church NNL-170922-165108001
St Christopher with the baby Jesus is the largest painting on the walls inside Slapton Church NNL-170922-165108001

Just 15 miles outside Banbury lies what art historian, Roger Rosewell declared as ‘one of the best places in England to see how a medieval church would have looked.’

St Botolph’s Church in the tiny village of Slapton is adorned with a multitude of biblical imagery and iconography that dates back over half a century.

Slapton church paintings NNL-170929-120606001

Slapton church paintings NNL-170929-120606001

The paintings, still colourful and vibrant, are under constant attack from the elements including damp and condensation and friends of the church have been raising money to preserve them for almost three decades.

The church itself dates back to the thirteenth century and is thought to have been erected by Sir William Lucy in 1260.

Wall paintings the size and clarity of those found in St Botolph’s are extremely rare. During the sixteenth century at the time of Henry VIII’s reign the Church of England broke away from the rule of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church in what is collectively known as the Reformation.

This resulted in the wholesale vandalism of religious iconography and the destruction of ecclesiastical treasures which included wall paintings.

Vivid colours remain even after hundreds of years NNL-170929-120234001

Vivid colours remain even after hundreds of years NNL-170929-120234001

St Botolph’s Church was not spared such abuse and the paintings remained whitewashed from the Reformation until they were rediscovered in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The significance of the paintings has not been lost in the noise of modernity and for years villagers have rallied together to raise funds for the preservation of the church’s artwork.

For the past two decades Caroline Coke, along with Andrew Young, has been the church warden and wants the wider community to learn about this hidden gem.

Caroline said: “This is a very small village and they’ve been trying to save these paintings since the early 1970s.

This painting depicts the Devil banging the heads together of two women NNL-170929-115601001

This painting depicts the Devil banging the heads together of two women NNL-170929-115601001

“I arrived in the village in 1985 and they had been having barbecues and jazz music for several years before that.”

The main enemies of the walls are damp and condensation which recent upgrades have began to tackle.

Caroline said: “Initially the restoration consisted of covering them in wax which was not helpful as it seals the damp in.

“What we’ve done recently is to improve the drainage on the outside of the church and we’ve got rid of the radiators up in the ceiling which didn’t help the wall paintings.”

Instead the church has installed radiators within the pews which prevents the paintings from drying out which in turn draws water through from the outside, flaking the paint.

The church is hosting a fundraising event on Saturday, October 14 from 6.30pm.

Zara Fleming will present a talk on Bhutan: Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon.

Ms Fleming is an experienced tour guide, art consultant and an expert on the Himalayas.

Tickets are £10 and include wine and canapes.

For more information call Caroline on 01327 860155 or email caroline.coke@abthorpe.net.