St Mary's, Kempley

 This simple Norman church in Gloucestershire, remote from the village it once served, has the oldest timber roof of any building in England. Its greatest glory, however, comes from having some of the best preserved medieval wall paintings in Britain. Those in the chancel are particularly rare, dating from the early 12th century, and are the most complete set of Romanesque frescos in northern Europe. The paintings are a vivid reminder of a time when church interiors were covered in such paintings. They tell stories from the Bible, depict the lives of saints, and show terrifying visions of demons and eternal damnation.  There are two groups of paintings at Kempley. The early Norman nave contains 13th century tempera paintings (made on dry plaster using an emulsified albumen paint). In the tiny barrel-vaulted chancel are a superb series of 12th century frescoes (painted onto wet plaster). These date from 1130 and feature Biblical scenes from the Book of Revelations centred on a figure of Christ in Majesty. The figure of Christ is surrounded by symbols of the four evagelists. A figure of Mary holds what appears top be a church in her hands. In the nave, on the south side of the chancel arch is a much faded representation of The Three Marys at the Sepulchre. This is contemporary with the chancel paintings. The most striking painting in the nave is a circular Wheel of Life, with a series of spokes representing 10 ages of man. The extraordinary richness of the paintings was preserved when the walls were whitewashed during the Reformation. The paintings were not rediscovered until remodelling was carried out in the 1870s, at which time coats of varnish applied. This had the unfortunate effect of darkening the paint, so the varnish was removed in the 1950s.   Under the tower is a much worn wooden chest created by hollowing out a single large log. The chest dates to 1492-1522.     POST CODE: GL18 2AT