MEDIEVAL wall paintings in Stratford’s Guild Chapel will soon be revealed to the world following a £100,000 lottery grant.
Stratford Town Trust (STT), custodian of the chapel on the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane, has secured the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) cash to showcase the nationally significant artwork which was hidden for centuries.
The paintings were covered over under the supervision of Shakespeare’s father in the 16th century during the Reformation.
They were uncovered under layers of limewash in the 19th and 20th centuries – and are some of the finest surviving wall paintings in Europe.
The conservation project – Death Reawakened – will start this summer on two of the best-preserved paintings, and should be completed by the end of the year. The work is set to reveal even more of the medieval artwork still hidden under layers of old paint.
STT trustee Quentin Willson told The Observer: “This is Stratford’s best-kept secret – the Guild Chapel would have been at the centre of Shakespeare’s world.
“His father would have been forced to limewash over these incredible paintings and would have no doubt spoken to his son about it in the years that followed. Unusually the paintings were not destroyed – as so many were during the Reformation, an indication perhaps that Shakespeare senior really did see this forced act as absolute sacrilege.
“It’s remarkable these paintings have survived half a millennia – and thanks to this HLF grant we can now work to ensure they can be enjoyed for another 500 years.”
Helen Munro, STT chief Executive Chief Executive of Stratford Town Trust, added the Guild Chapel was an “absolute gem” but was all too often overlooked – something she was confident the conservation project would change.
She said: “Standing right next to New Place, it was a very important part of Shakespeare’s life.
“We have something so rare here and we feel privileged to now be in a position to conserve this history – and to tell the world about it.”
It was in 1563 the paintings were defaced and limewashed under the supervision of John Shakespeare, the father of the playwright, who at the time was the chamberlain of the Corporation of Stratford.
It appears they were subsequently re-limewashed and painted over a number of times and it was not until 1804 that the majority of the paintings were uncovered.
Sadly, few then survived the renovations of the 19th century, but in 1955, when the gallery was removed, those left came to light.
The Friends of the Guild Chapel are delighted to see the project about to start.
Friends chairman Tim Raistrick, said: “Since the 1950s the Friends of the Guild Chapel have raised money to help preserve what was then fast becoming a derelict and unloved building.
“Over £1 million in today’s money has been spent by the Friends on transforming the building into one of the town’s most spectacular buildings.
“However, one of the key remaining items to address is the Chapel’s most significant feature – the medieval wall paintings. We are thus delighted to be working with the town trust to ensure they are properly conserved and delighted that this HLF grant will mean they can be fully appreciated for centuries to come.”
The lottery cash will also support an educational programme to attract more visitors to the Chapel to see the wall paintings. Displays are currently being prepared, with a team of volunteers also being recruited to welcome and guide visitors.
The chapel will remain open throughout the project.