In the Middle Ages, the inside of churches were covered with wall paintings. During the Reformation these were whitewashed and forgotten. It wasn’t until Victorian restorations of churches they were rediscovered. In many churches they were destroyed when the restorers stripped off all the plaster down to the bare walls. In other churches, tantalising glimpses of paintings can be seen. The Church of St Peter and St Paul is unusual that all of the paintings on the north and south walls have been preserved. Pevsner describes Pickering as “one of the most complete series of wall paintings…… and they give one a vivid idea of what ecclesiastical interiors were really like"
It is a big church set at the top of Market Place. Set in a churchyard and surrounded by tall trees, it is difficult to photograph. The present building dates from 1150. The tower collapsed in 1200 and had to be rebuilt. In the 15thC, a clerestory was added to the nave and the wall paintings repainted. Two chantry chapels were added. The church underwent a major restoration in the late 19thC .
There is a large square tower with carved parapet and tall stone tower. The long clerestory nave has battlements with side aisles, transepts chancel with south chapel and a large south porch with a 1817 sundial.
Inside it feels a big church. The north arcade is pure Norman with round pillars with carved capitals and arches. The transept and chancel arches are later and pointed. There is some rather nice carving round the base of the arches in the north transept.
Our eyes were immediately drawn to the wall paintings and they truly are amazing. When they were discovered during the 1852 restorations, the Rector took exception to them "as a work of art (they are) fairly ridiculous, would excite feelings of curiosity. And distract the congregation" They were promptly recovered with a thick yellow wash. They were only uncovered again in the 1870s when work began on rebuilding the transepts. They were extensively and sensitively restored. On a sunny day with light streaming in through the clerestory windows they can be difficult to see.
STARTING AT THE WEST END OF THE NORTH WALL
The first painting is St George on horseback killing the dragon. Next to him is St Christopher carrying the Christ Child across a river with serpents round his feet.This is followed by a scene showing the Beheading of John the Baptist with a kneeling and now headless John with his head on a plate being presented to Salome by Herod. Above is a scene of the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin with mary being crowned in Heaven by God the Father.
Next to it is a scene showing the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket by four knights wearing 15thC armour. Below this is the martyrdom of St Edmund when he is shot with arrows.
STARTING AT THE EAST END OF THE SOUTH WALL
There is a comic strip presentation of the life of St Catherine of Alexandria. At the top is the pagan idol-worship which Catherine protested about. Catherine was condemned to prison. In the next tier, Catherine, has been released from prison and is debating with the philosophers sent by the Emperor. She converts them to Christianity and they are condemned and burnt. Catherine is sent back to prison before being scourged. In the final scene, Catherine is flanked by the four wheels used to torture her, but they break and kill several soldiers. At the bottom, Catherine kneels while an angel blesses her as the executioner raises his sword.
Next is a long narrow painting showing the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy including visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, burying the dead. There then is a double painting. At the top are scenes of the PAssion and Crucifixion. Below is a splendid representation of the Jaws of Hell with sinners being pushed into the mouth of a red monster. The final image is of the Resurrection of Christ.
The colours are now faded but the paintings are still full of life. The camera revealed much more detail than we could see with the naked eye.
The rest of the church rather pales into insignificance after the paintings. At the back is a Saxon tub font. Pews are 19thC and the carved 18thC round pulpit is described as a Hepplewhite style.
By the chancel arch is the Bruce effigy dating from 1340-50 of a knight in full armour with sword and shield. His feet are crossed and his head is supported by angels.
The chancel screen and the linen fold panelling and reredos in the sanctuary date from the 1920s. The screen has very delicate tracery at the top supported by floor pillars. On the top is a crucifix. On the north wall is the King Memorial tablet with the British and American flags. Nicholas and Robert surveyed the City of Washington DC.
The north chantry chapel now houses the organ. The south chapel as built in 1407 for the tomb of Sir David and Dame Margery Roucliffe. He has his feet on a lion, hers are on a dog. Winged beasts support the pillows. This originally had a priest’s room above which later became a school. This is now the Lady Chapel with a painting of the Annunciation on the reredos. Tucked away in the corner is the old poor box.
This is a fascinating church and well worth visiting. It is open daily.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/yorkshire/north_yorkshire/north_yorkshire_two/pickering/index.html