'Special' Flamstead medieval church murals need £1m

Image source, Tom Sander
Image caption,
The murals depict scenes from Christ's life, including the Crucifixion and the Last Supper

"Very high quality" medieval church murals risk being permanently damaged unless up to £1m is found for urgent repairs, a vicar has said.

An inspection of St Leonard's Church in Flamstead, Hertfordshire, in March discovered water leaking through the roof and walls.

Vicar Tom Sander said without repairs it will have to close within two years.

Art historian Ellie Pridgeon said the 12th and 13th Century murals "stand out" among UK wall paintings.

Image source, Tom Sander
Image caption,
The murals are believed to created by the same artist who painted murals at the cathedral in nearby St Albans
Image source, Tom Sander
Image caption,
Vicar Tom Sander believes there are more wall paintings to be uncovered

The inspection revealed "the beams that hold up the church are actually completely rotten - you can poke a screwdriver from one end to the other, according to Mr Sander.

He has been advised the church, which is "almost full on Sundays", could become unsafe for people to use.

The vicar said: "It's the biggest community space in the village and used for a whole range of secular as well as sacred things - community dinners, a literary festival, parish council meetings.

"Many of the people involved in trying to save St Leonard's are militant atheists, but they recognise the value of the building to community life.

"We're grown-ups and we all respect each other's views and want what's best for the village."

Image source, John Salmon/Geograph
Image caption,
The 12th Century building is believed to be on the site of a 9th Century chapel

The paintings were covered up during the Reformation and rediscovered in the 1920s.

Dr Pridgeon said the "very high status... very high quality" murals are believed to have been painted by the same artist as those at St Albans Cathedral.

"This makes them very special," she said.

Villagers have launched a fundraising campaign and will apply for grants through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Mr Sanders said £1m is a "top end" estimate, but until they raise the funds for experts to inspect the entire building, they will not know how much work is required.

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