The mystery of the painted lady
TV archaeologist Mark Horton is on a mission for Inside Out - Monday 6 February, 7.30pm, BBC ONE West - to shed more light on an historical riddle which has set tongues wagging in Wells.
Workmen have discovered a risqué wall painting of a lady, hidden under the floorboards in the Bishop's Palace.
The palace, which stands alongside Wells Cathedral, remains the family home of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
The exquisite painting was found three years ago by a plumber who was carrying out some work in the Virgin's Tower, in what used to be the throne room.
But no-one is quite sure who it depicts. Some people think it could be a woman of ill repute, because of her low cut gown.
The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Right Rev Peter Price, thinks it may be Mary Magdalene.
On the edge of the painting there are berries and foliage, suggesting the risqué lady may be a small section of a much larger work hidden under the plasterwork.
The first clue for Mark is the headdress the lady is seen wearing.
He discovers that it was only fashionable for around ten years. Using brass rubbings he is able to date the fashion to around 1460.
A quick check of the cathedral's records shows that in 1460, the Bishop was Thomas Beckynton.
Beckynton was responsible for building a whole section of the palace, including the very same tower which is home to the mysterious lady.
So he concludes the painting is almost certainly from Beckynton's time as Bishop, which ended in January 1465.
Back in the Special Collections section of Bristol University's library, Mark makes an extraordinary discovery.
In an old book, he finds an illustration of a meeting between Beckynton and the playwright Thomas Chaundler. Remarkably, it shows Chaundler presenting one of his plays to Beckynton in the throne room.
The walls are covered with a floral pattern which seems to reflect some elements of the painting that has emerged from under the floorboards.
While Mark's detective work doesn't reveal the precise identity of the mystery lady, he has uncovered some fabulous new clues.
His work has inspired the current Bishop who would love to see the throne room restored to its former glory with the enchanting painted lady in pride of place.
Inside Out West is broadcast on Monday 6 February at 7.30pm on BBC ONE in the West region.
Notes to Editors
Viewers outside the BBC West region can see it on digital satellite channel 956.
Mark Horton is Head of the Archaeology and Anthropology Department at the University of Bristol and runs and teaches one of the few postgraduate programmes in Maritime Archaeology and History.