In November last year, St James the Great Church in Stoke Orchard was delighted to have been selected as one of the winners in the 2022 CPRE Gloucestershire Awards. Representatives of St James and the Diocese of Gloucester’s Church Buildings team attended a special ceremony in Highnam to collect their award.
Since 2007, the CPRE Gloucestershire Award has recognised outstanding community projects that have demonstrated sustainability and best practice in enhancing the natural environment for the enjoyment of others, from farm shops to wildlife reintroduction and affordable housing.
St James the Great Church dates from around 1160 and its most remarkable feature are the medieval wall-paintings in the nave. With its dedication to St James, the first Apostle to be ‘received into heaven’, the church was regularly visited by pilgrims in medieval times. It is believed that many stopped here on their way to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The original paintings are devoted to the life of the saint, with each panel representing part of his life. Apart from the most significant scheme of wall paintings dedicated to St James, there are several later schemes in the nave of the church, both pre- and post-Reformation. Parts of each layer have been revealed, creating a timeline of the church’s history.
The paintings were whitewashed several times over the centuries. They were exposed and first conserved in the 1950s. By 2019, they were found to be in need of consolidation and cleaning. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the conservation team at the church, working alongside the Church Buildings team at the Diocese of Gloucester, they have been meticulously cleaned and conserved, bringing this unique cultural resource back to life and securing its future for future generations.
The CPRE Gloucestershire Award was granted ‘in recognition of the foresight and tenaciousness that was needed to plan this restoration project, to raise the finance required to commission the restoration expertise to conserve the images, provide training for future conservators, and develop visitor interpretation.’
The recipients were treated to an award ceremony at Gambier Parry Hall in Highnam at the end of last year, with the winners presented with a wall plaque and certificates by President, Charles Martell, creator of the popular Gloucester Cheese, ‘Stinking Bishop’.
Roger Grimshaw and the Tredington and Stoke Orchard PCC have played a key role in the £90,000 conservation project.
Roger says, “The paintings are truly unique and have generated worldwide interest. People come from far and wide just to view them. It has been a labour of love to bring them back to life and reveal them to the world again, so it is a pleasure to have all the hard work recognised in this award.
“This is also a good example of how parishes and the Diocese are working together. And through the project we were also able to support the education of two student conservators who worked with our team.”
Adam Klups adds, “It was a real pleasure to receive a CPRE Gloucestershire Award on behalf of the Gloucester DAC and the Diocese. The Award recognises the direct role Gloucester DAC played in the planning and delivery of this important conservation project and celebrates the positive collaboration between the parish, the DAC and accredited conservators Perry Lithgow Partnership. The project, aimed at having these nationally and internationally significant wall paintings conserved and better interpreted, was an astonishing success, despite the fact that both the fundraising and conservation work happened during the COVID crisis. It’s also wonderful to see wider organisations appreciating the hard work of our parishes and the Church Buildings team at the Diocese.”
St James the Great Church is open during the week. You can read more about the paintings in the parish newsletter.
Read more about St James and the other winners: CPRE Gloucestershire Awards – CPRE Gloucestershire (cpreglos.org.uk)
Watch how it all began An adventure in conservation: the Stoke Orchard Wall Paintings Conservation Project – Diocese of Gloucester (anglican.org)