Thomas Becket’s Doom re-examined by church

The Doom painting

One of the largest medieval church Doom paintings in the country has been painstakingly restored and conserved and now appears much as it did in the late 15th century.

The image at St Thomas Becket church in Salisbury is a rare survivor and depicts Christ sitting in judgement over those who have died.

It was white-washed during the Reformation and uncovered in the early 19th century before it was covered again only to re-emerge in the Victorian era.

In recent years it had become pale, but now stands out, dominating the space above the chancel, continuing down the spandrels. It reaches 45 feet above the nave.

The project of restoration also revealed an angel on the ceiling clutching a bizarre depiction of the Trinity that shows three heads as one; sharing eyes and other features.

The depiction of the Trinity

Experts spent three months conserving the Doom painting, which also involved injecting lime slurry behind areas of paint to affix them again to the wall.

Conserving the Doom

Conserving the Doom

Conserving the Doom

Doom paintings were a feature of medieval church art and were of use to the illiterate by instructing them on the nature of judgement.

The image depicts people climbing from their graves, throwing off their robes and waiting to be judged – the good are accompanied to heaven and the rest are sent to hell.

Condemned to hell

It was created shortly after St Thomas Becket was completed in the late 15th century on the site of a previous church.

It is said that those who built the city’s magnificent Gothic cathedral worshipped at the earlier church on the site.

Rev Kelvin Inglis, rector of the parish church since 2017, said of the painting: “I love it.

Rev Kelvin Inglis, rector of St Thomas Becket

“It picks up several themes and is a challenge about how to live our lives and how to make decisions on a day-to-day basis. It is about the reality of human life; a reminder of Matthew 25.

“People come from all over the world to see it. Some come to Salisbury to visit the cathedral, then come here. Others have read about the Doom painting and seek it out.

“It had become pale and needed conserving as pieces of the painting were coming away. The final part was to varnish it which has really brought out the colour.

“The painting was covered over during the Reformation and was revealed in the early 19th century then covered again – possibly because they didn’t like it.”

So far £500,000 has been spent on the conservation project at the church, but the rector says that they’d need upwards of £1m more to finish it.

Peter Martindale who conserved the painting said: “It took three of us three months to complete.

Conserving the Doom

“Part of it was coming away from the wall and we filled some holes with lime plaster. We also injected lime slurry into the void behind it in places where it was coming away.

“Previous work on the painting had seen a metal bar stretched across it to hold it in place, but this had corroded and was no longer performing a function so we removed it.

“This has improved it a lot especially its aesthetic appearance. The painting needed touching up in places and was finished with varnish.

“The whole project mattered an awful lot to me because it is on my doorstep. I’m absolutely delighted with it.”

As part of the project the late Victorian pews have been removed, leaving a large space for events and concerts.

During the six day long Christmas tree festival in December 17,000 people visited the church.

The rector added: “This church is the parish’s resource and it is glorious; it is important to a lot of people.

“Removing the pews means we can be much more flexible in terms of what we can do – and it will be easier for wheelchair users.”

Thomas Becket church in Salisbury

Conserved Doom detail

Conserved Doom detail

Conserved Doom detail

How the Times ran the story