The History of St.Margaret's Church

The Wall Painting of St.Christopher

Watercolour in the Castle Museum,
Norfolk Museums Service
Collections by F Sandys, 1846
(Copyright image, NMS Collections)

The painting which was discovered in the 19th century is a good example of a late medieval wall painting. It is located on the southeast pier of the tower of the south aisle which is an unusual position as St Christopher paintings are usually found on the north side of the church. The painting is probably in an aqueous-based medium and is applied on a fine, smooth lime plaster skim on a under plaster of lime and evenly graded coarse sand. A limited palette survives of earth pigments and a discoloured red. The choice of pigments and surface finish are typical of well-executed East Anglian parish church painting in the 14th century.

(Click on the picture to view the image full size.)

The wall painting conservator Monica Bardswell carried out a survey of a number of Norfolk churches in 1957. In her notes she describes painting in Swannington church as: - "A St Christopher on south face of south arcade, facing south door of nave. A watercolour drawing by F. Sandys 1846 exists in the Bulwer Collection, Norwich Castle Museum. The painting remains the wall, but rather faint. The saint wears a blue-grey tunic to the knees, a white cloak draped round his shoulders, breeches tied at the knees (as at Preston & Seething) his legs bare; three fishes in water and an eel wound around his ankle. The Saint has a long spade in his right hand held upright by his side. His nimbus is red, his hair and beard yellow & bushy. The Holy Child on his left shoulder, holds his right hand the across the body, blessing (towards) the west. His left hand rests on his knees, holding the orb: is dressed in a long yellow tunic. Nimbus cruciform, white on red. In the upper part is a shield on either side, the left one charged with a cross. There are traces of later painting of an architectural nature, in red. The painting was discovered in 1846 during restoration of the church. Date c.1400. M.B existing 1957." 1

View of St Christopher in 2017
(Photo. © A Kirkham 2017)

Across the surface, and cutting through the pigment of the painting, is a large architectural inscription. Only fragments of the right-hand side of the design survive. Below the painting is an unusual, smaller scale architectural inscription. The general appearance is of a design related to a late 15th century window, but this has been covered by thick layers of lime-wash which have obscured much of the detail.2

The painting shows signs of conservation work having been carried out many years ago. It has been treated with a wax coating which was quite widely used in the 1930s/1940s to protect wall paintings. This has led to an accumulation of dirt and makes the painting look greyish which conceals it. We hope that we will be in the position to have the painting conserved.

1Unpublished notes by Monica Bardswell in preparation for an unfinished C15th volume on wall paintings, V&A Art Library.
2 Matthew Champion - Architectural Inscriptions: New Discoveries in East Anglia