Wednesday, 9 March 2016


A spare half hour near Caterham last Saturday gave me the chance to visit the Church of St Peter and St Paul at Chaldon - famous for the twelfth-century doom mural on the west wall of the church. It was worth the visit despite the snow!

Much of the text about the church is taken from the History of Chaldon Church.

The present church was started in the late 10th or early 11th century, before the Normans came. It consisted originally of a rectangular nave, 27 feet long and just over 17 feet wide with high walls probably having an apse at the east end, characteristic of Saxon church building. The west wall is of traditional flint construction and is almost certainly original, and the wall containing the chancel arch may also be.

The chancel arch is  Early English, an enlargement of the original archway.  The east window of the chancel contains scenes of Christ's Nativity, Crucifixion and Ascension, by Powell, and dates from 1869

On the north side of the Chancel there is a renaissance tablet, with ornate pilasters and pediment, dated 1562, with a face resembling a flaming sun, bearing the easily readable inscription

I 1562 E
Good Redar warne all / Men and Woomen whil they / Be Here To be ever good to / The poore and nedy. The / Poore ever in thys / Worlde shall ye have. God / Grante vs sumwhat in / Stoore for to save. The Cry/ Of the Poore is Extreme and / Very sore. God graunte us / To be good evermore. In thys / Worlde we rune our rase / God Graute us to be with / Christ in tyme and space.

The south aisle extends into St. Kateryn's Chapel, built in the 14th century, now the Lady Chapel.  The south window contains some original, very old small glass panes.

The pulpit, made from lizard oak in Jacobean style bears the name Patience Lambert (of Tollsworth Manor) and the date 1657, making it one of very few specimens of pulpits of Cromwellian times.

The bowl of the font is square in shape, hollowed out into a hemisphere, standing on an octagonal shaft, and it is the only one of its type in Surrey. Like the Renaissance Tablet, it is made from Merstham stone from a local quarry.

On a column by the south door is a painted cross, over a 'T' monogram representing St Thomas Becket, probably left by a pilgrim.

The west wall contains a very high small (1ft x 4ft6in) window, cut straight through, very late Saxon or early Norman above the wall paintings.

The picture on the west wall is famous as the earliest known English wall painting - it dates from about 1200 and is without equal in any other part of Europe. It is thought to have been painted by a travelling artist-monk with an extensive knowledge of Greek ecclesiastical art. The picture depicts the 'Ladder of Salvation of the Human Soul' together with 'Purgatory and Hell' Wall paintings of this kind were intended as a visual aid to religious teaching and they provide a wide philosophical background to such studies.
The fresco, in dark red ochre and yellow ochre, measures 17ft3in x 11ft2in. At some stage, probably in the seventeenth century, during the 'Commonwealth', the painting was white-washed over. In 1869 when the Rector, Reverend Henry Shepherd, had decorators in to prepare the walls for re-limewashing, he noticed signs of colour and stopped the work. The workers had already reported having found some more figures on the north wall arch, which were unfortunately hacked off irretrievably, including a devil and two human figures. The Surrey Archaeological Society undertook the cleaning and preserving of the mural and Mr. J.G.Waller, an expert in these matters, undertook the restoration. A certain amount of addition of colour was made at that time. Later it was covered with a protective wax coating, which over the years caused it to lose colour owing to the growth of mould underneath. This was removed in August 1989 when the Mural was cleaned and conserved by Mr.Wolfgang Gartner, Conservator and Director of the Canterbury Wall Paintings Workshop (taken from Painted Church)

The whole picture is in the form of a cross, formed by the Ladder and the horizontal division between Heaven and Hell. Starting at the lower right, we have the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, loaded with fruit, with Satan as a serpent in the branches. Two devils hold up a ‘bridge of spikes’ which dishonest tradesmen have to cross. First, the blacksmith making a horseshoe without his anvil, then a mason without a chisel, the spinners without a distaff, and a potter without a wheel. Below the bridge, the usurer is sitting in flames. He is blind, money pours from his mouth, and he has to count it all (avarice). On his right two figures represent envy, while on the left, two figures embrace – lust. The remaining deadly sins are scattered around in small scenes to the left of the ladder.
Above the ladder is a cloud containing the head and shoulders of Christ, with the sun on his right and the moon on his left.
One later addition to the painting is a consecration cross on the lower left edge.