Long-lost Flemish masterpiece funds £2m revamp of Wiltshire church

Quentin Metsys' Christ Blessing and Holy Trinity in Bradford on Avon Image copyright Google
Image caption The apparently unremarkable painting was found hanging in Holy Trinity in Bradford-on-Avon in 2006

A church has undergone a £2m refit thanks to the discovery of a long-lost Flemish masterpiece in a side-aisle.

The apparently unremarkable painting was found hanging in Holy Trinity in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, in 2006 and identified as Quentin Metsys' Christ Blessing.

Given to the church in 1940 by a couple from the nearby village of Holt, the small oil was sold for about £1.5m.

The church has now reopened after the year-long revamp.

The small oil panel depicting Jesus was discovered in the Norman church by art conservator Kiffy Stainer-Hutchins and art historian Simon Watney a decade ago.

Painstaking research found it to be the work of Metsys - an influential painter who worked in Antwerp in Belgium in the 16th Century.

Further investigation also found the work was one half of a larger work that had been sawn in two - the other part depicted the Virgin Mary at prayer.

Image copyright Holy Trinity
Image caption In January 2016 the church closed and work got underway to raise the level of the floor, install under floor heating, improve the layout, and provide new seating, a kitchen, toilets and office space
Image copyright Holy Trinity
Image caption Churchwarden Judith Holland said the response to the refurbishment has been "staggering"

Churchwarden Judith Holland said 75% of the windfall had contributed towards the much-needed restoration work at the church.

"It was such a gift and such a blessing," she said.

"We've put in under floor heating, new lighting and moved the font so it's very spacious and the whole building has been cleaned - and the difference is amazing.

"Some people - if they've been worshipping there for many years - suddenly it's all changed and that can take a while to get used to but on the whole it's been a positive feedback."

The church re-opened on Tuesday for its annual Christmas Tree Festival of 60 decorated trees representing the schools, businesses and groups from across Bradford-on-Avon.

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