Wiltshire

Hidden St Christopher statue discovered in Lydiard church

Conservator with head of statue Image copyright St Mary's Church
Image caption A hidden niche was found to contain the head of a statue of St Christopher

A statue of St Christopher thought to have been concealed by a stone mason in the 16th century has been discovered in a hidden wall in a medieval church.

Conservation students working at St Mary's Church in Lydiard Tregoze near Swindon made the discovery while working on a restoration project.

Wall paintings in the church, which dates back to the 11th Century, were whitewashed in the English Reformation.

Paul Gardner, from the project, described the find as "very exciting".

He said a wall plaque was removed which revealed an "amazing niche" that was "very ornate for its time" and "stuffed full of rubble and muddy lime-wash".

"The workers pulled a piece of innocuous rubble out and could see a little face staring back at them. It revealed a head thought to be that of a statue of St Christopher."

Image copyright St Mary's Church
Image caption Paul Gardner described the newly discovered niche as "very ornate for its time"

Mr Gardner thinks it was hidden by a stonemason ordered to destroy religious artefacts as part of the Reformation era which saw churches vandalised and desecrated.

"They must have been upset to have to break these things up," he said.

"One of them must have... quickly slipped that head in the niche hoping one day someone would come along and open it up and rediscover the head of St Christopher.

"They were doing their best to try and send a message to salvage those pieces over the centuries."

Mr Gardner said the niche and statue will form a display when restoration work is complete, along with a newly discovered medieval patterned wall painting.

The restoration of the Grade I listed building has been funded by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and it is expected to be completed early next year.

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