Monday, 3 September 2012

Doom Walls - Last Judgement

In many of the little Parish Churches in England during the Medieval period, Doom Walls were painted. These showed the Last Judgement, and in particular the consequences of Heaven and Hell. They were painted on a large scale mostly dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. Dooms were encouraged by the early medieval Church as an instrument to highlight the contrasts between the reward of Heaven and the agony of Hell so as to guide Christians away from misbehaviour and sin. A Doom was usually positioned either on the liturgical Western wall so that it was visible as worshipers left the church, or at the front, the Chancel end, often on an arch, so that it would be constantly visible to worshipers as they faced the altar during services.
This Doom Wall painting is a detail from St. Andrew's Church, near Cambridge. In the bottom left hand corner you can see the dead arising, those that are going to Heaven go off to the left and those that are off to Hell leave on the right.
Doom wall from St. Mary's Church, near Oxford
Here again the saved are shown on the left and the doomed on the right.
I wrote here about the how the right hand of God is considered powerful and the left hand weak. If you were viewing these Doom walls from within then the people that are saved are in fact going to the right and the doomed to the left.
There are a number of factors responsible for the loss of so many wall paintings. The Reformation led to monasteries being disbanded so destroying a main source of learning and art. The paintings were sadly often white washed over by the Puritans, particularly during the Commonwealth period.
St. Nicholas, Lower Oddington, Gloucestershire. It is possible to make out a hell fire with people in it. The devils seem to be wearing stripes. One of them has a pair of bellows blowing air into the fire.
St. Peter and St. Paul church in Pickering, Yorkshire.
This is particularly grusome scene, and a Warning to Blasphemers, in which those who have taken the Lord's name in vain are shown tearing apart his body in the mouth of hell. One can be seen plucking out his heart!!!
Some gentler medieval wall paintings.

The wheel of Life

Above images from St Mary's Kempley, Gloucestershire 
The above images come from St. Peter and St. Paul, Pickering, Yorkshire and show St. George and the Dragon, and the beheading of John the Baptist
Due to their age, roughly 800 years old, and the fact that they were covered in a white wash paint for so many years, these images are not very clear.
images courtesy wikipedia

30 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary:
    As you may possibly be aware, church architecture, churches in general, and graveyards are one of our principal interests and so this post has particular resonance for us. Strangely, but perhaps not so, we have never visited any of the churches which you show here and so have not, of course, seen any of the Doom Walls for ourselves. What one is yet again reminded of is how very decorated were English parish churches before the Reformation.

    And we recall here that, to us, delightful film of many years ago, based on the play, 'A Month in the Country'.

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    1. Dear Jane and Lance - the doom walls in English parish churches have such a delightful naive quality to them, and it is a sad loss that so many have been destroyed.
      Thank you for the reminder of 'A Month in the Country' the delightful film following restoration work on a Medieval mural - how lovely it would be to see it again.

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  2. Rosemary, The faded colors and fantastic subjects of these doom walls make them absolutely fascinating. The theme of doom and perdition are so frequent in European art that you wonder about the psychology involved--shouldn't the attractions and awards of propriety be inducement enough?

    Thanks to the Hattatts and you for the lead on A Month in the Country; I am going to order it for my next trip home. I hope that more of these old paintings can be found and saved.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Thanks for your comment Jim. Remembering that literacy was the exclusive domain of monks and clergy during the medieval period, they must have decided that frescos frightening the ordinary man into submission was the order of the day.

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  3. Hello Rosemary

    The images seem to have softened in colour which makes the quite dreamy in quality.
    Thank you for sharing these and I would love to see them in reality. Another good reason to return to England soon.

    Helenxx

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    1. Dear Helen - to see them in reality is the way they should be viewed. They require a long look picking out all of the tiny details, which sadly are lost somewhat in photos. The medieval fresco painters had a very strange vision of heaven and hell and some of the obstacles that they imagined one would encounter.

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  4. Dear Rosemary, No boubt these very real paintings made a huge impression on the poor country folks... a colorful way to get the message of good and evil told.
    Doom Walls are aptly named and thanks to you, Rosemary, I have been introduced to another unusual art form.

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    1. Dear Gina - you could well imagine the fear that they would impart to the ordinary illiterate medieval man and women, and what about their children? I am always delighted when I come across one in a church, they show the really strange ideas and thoughts that they had at the time.

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  5. Love this post. Terrific photos, awesome information! I love old art, even when it's gruesome. ;)

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    1. Yes Marie, I love gruesome too. Some of it is so, so, gruesome that you cannot help but laugh.

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  6. Dear Rosemary,

    Thank you for this unusual and educational tour. Studying these images, I am wondering about the paints that were available in such a rough time, and imagine that they were largely umbers and terra cottas. It's so wonderful that they were not entirely destroyed by all the whitewashing.

    As I look at the last image — of John the Baptist — I notice that the biblical scene is painted with all the subjects wearing dress contemporary to the time of the artist, which is also true of so many Renaissance paintings. It makes me wonder why we see no such religious scenes based in current context. Wouldn't that be interesting?

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    1. Dear Mark - I nearly did not post this, as the images are such poor quality. The paintings really need to be view in situ to be fully appreciated. Fortunately, and with careful restoration more wall paintings are being discovered, and the skill at revealing them is improving.
      The painter that springs to my mind for painting religious scenes in a contemporary context is Stanley Spencer. He used the local folk living in Cookham for his work, and I think that is one of the things that first attracted me to his work. If you look here you can see an example of what I am talking about. http://www.hampsteadparishchurch.org.uk/data/sermons_2008.php?id=231

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    2. Yes, of course. I remember your posting about Sir Stanley; in the respect of using local scenes for his religious paintings, he was certainly out of the Renaissance mold.

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    3. Hope that you managed to see the link I gave you OK.

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  7. I have never heard of Doom Walls and am thankful for your introduction to them. I am glad some have been saved. Such old paintings are a treasure. Even though the subject matter is not all beautiful, the colors certainly are.

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    1. Dear Lisa - I am glad that I showed the post now as several people had not heard of them. I nearly didn't show it because of the quality of the images. Fortunately more and more wall paintings are being discovered and restored.

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  8. What lovley photos, I wonder if this where the phrase Doom and Gloom comes from.

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    1. That is a very interesting question you pose but unfortunately I do not know the answer. The images certain are full of doom and gloom, unless one was heading off to the right!!!

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  9. It's great they found the paintings behind the white paint. It's a shame a lot of these paintings did disapear.
    Great post Rosemary.
    have a great evening

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    1. Dear Marijke - luckily more and more are being discovered, and the techniques for restoring them improving all of the time. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  10. What lovely photos!Amazing post dear Rosemary!Have a wonderful week!
    Dimi..

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    1. Dear Dimi - How very kind, glad that you enjoyed the post - thank you.

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  11. Very interesting, Rosemary! It makes me paying more attention to paintings next time I visit a church. The richness and colors are impressive and it is great that some of these treasures have been saved. Christa

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    1. Thanks Christa - glad that you found the post interesting, hopefully more will be discovered in time and saved.

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  12. I can't imagine how it would feel to walk into those churches, look at those frescos and enjoy the atmosphare... It must be extraordinary. ( even if the atmosphare, due to the themes, can be heavy )

    Thanks again for an interesting post Rosemary : )

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    1. Dear Demie - of course we are viewing them today with hindsight - medieval man and women would have been in great fear when observing them. So pleased that you found it interesting Demie and thanks for your visit.

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  13. Another fascinating post Rosemary. I love the art. It is so beautiful, with the chalky pale colours peering at us from so long ago. It is the amazing survival of those fading images through the centuries, despite everything, including the Dissolution and then the Commonwealth period, that really attracts me. However, as always with art and architecture designed to show the Church's power, and in these cases, promote fear in order to keep order according to the Church's viewpoint, I think I may have been part of a movement to obliterate the images. Completely fascinating, thanks for posting about it. J

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    1. Really interesting observations Janice - thank you. When they were first painted they would have been quite brightly coloured, it is sad that they were almost lost, but there is something also quite special in their faded beauty.

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  14. You are such a splendid guide to our artistic heritage, Rosemary. Thank you for these fine photos and the wonderfully informative text. A real treat.

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    1. I am so pleased that you liked the post Perpetua. The images are quite difficult to interpret, you need to see them in reality.
      I was in two minds as to whether or not to post it because of the image quality, but several bloggers had not heard of doom walls, and were interested to learn about them.

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