Painted Temples: Wallpaintings and Rood-screens in Welsh Churches, 1200–1800 by Richard Suggett
“This is a welcome and treasurable survey of a long-neglected area of Welsh cultural history.” From the Foreword by Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury.
This bilingual book was written (‘unlocked’ might be the better word) during the Coronavirus lockdown that began in late March 2020, when libraries, archives and places of worship were firmly closed. Some churches and chapels, already in a precarious position through declining congregations or the need for expensive repairs, may never reopen. This would be a great loss to us all, churchgoers or not, as this book aims to show by charting a history of the parish church through one of its more ephemeral but oddly resilient features: painted images, texts and decoration.
The book begins by discussing the great late-medieval rebuilding of parish churches in Wales before moving on to consider the nature and roles of painted screens and painted walls within these newly roofed and refurnished churches. Numerous ‘set-piece’ paintings are described and there are case-studies of the extraordinary painted interiors at Llancarfan (by Jane Rutherfoord) and Llandeilo Talybont (by Tony Parkinson), the latter church now re-erected at St Fagans with the recreated wallpaintings providing visitors with ‘the shock of the old’.
The story of painted decoration then continues beyond the Reformation into a period when churches were visually transformed through the demolition of rood-lofts and the obliteration of wallpaintings. As the painted image was supplanted by the painted word, so the polychrome church interior became predominantly black and white, apart from the few splashes of colour provided by painted monuments and the Royal Arms – a forceful visual expression of the new relationship between church and state.
The painted inscriptions of the post-Reformation church are of absorbing interest and the ‘chosen sentences’ express not only religious sentiments but unmistakably the increasing importance and status of written Welsh in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Painters emerge as named personalities in the seventeenth century, and the verse autobiography of Thomas Jones of Hereford and Brecon (published in 1641) is a wonderful and unexpectedly idiosyncratic record of the precarious and picaresque world of the artisan adorner of churches.
Inscriptions were less visible in the later eighteenth-century as churches became a more cluttered social space, with competing pews and wall monuments. The walls and ceilings became increasingly bleached of colour in the later eighteenth century, as inserted plaster ceilings hid the trusses of the old open roofs and limewash was applied liberally inside and outside the church. The rediscovery of the colour of the medieval church by antiquarian-minded parsons in the mid-nineteenth century was a revelation, though not without controversy, as high churchmen and low engaged in battles over the propriety of colour and imagery in churches.
The book has been written by Richard Suggett, Senior Investigator (Historic Buildings) at the Royal Commission. The book draws on the records of wallpaintings made for posterity by Commission staff over many years, especially Tony Parkinson, whose gazetteer of mural decoration in Wales has been revised for this book. Drawings and photographs are as important, if not more so, than wordy descriptions. There are several meticulously colour-matched reconstruction drawings by Dylan Roberts, which succeed in conveying the original colour and visual impact of paintings that have inevitably faded. Iain Wright overcame many technical challenges and difficulties of access shortly before his retirement to take the photographs that are an essential component and glorious adornment of this book. We are also grateful for the historic images supplied by our partners, the National Library of Wales, Amgueddfa Cymru–National Museum Wales, and Cadw. In all, there are 275 stunning images, many never published before.
The perfect Christmas present for many! This book will be available from Monday 22 November 2021 and is available to pre-order from our website now. Don’t forget, Friends of the Royal Commission are entitled to a 10% discount on all publication. For further details, please contact Nicola Roberts/Marisa Morgan. Tel: 01970 621248.
Richard Suggett, Temlau Peintiedig: Murluniau a Chroglenni yn Eglwysi Cymru, 1200–1800 / Painted Temples: Wallpaintings and Rood-screens in Welsh Churches, 1200–1800 (RCAHMW, 2021). xii + 366 pages with 275 illustrations. RRP £29.95.
Foreword by Rt Rev. and Rt Hon. Dr Rowan Williams
- Cover of book
- A Tudor rose at St Cybi’s Church, Holyhead, Anglesey. A drawing by Dylan Roberts with colours restored.
- The Seven Deadly Sins at St Cadoc’s Church, Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan.
- Memento mori in St. Elian’s Church, Llaneilian, Anglesey.
- Royal Arms of Charles II dated 1661 in St Saeran’s Church, Llanynys, Denbighshire.
- Title page of ‘Mercy Triumphing over Judgement’ by Thomas Jones (London, 1641).
All images RCAHMW copyright.