The Church of St. James' Church Paintings - Atlas Obscura

The Church of St. James' Wall Paintings

Bramley, England

The walls of this village church are decorated by two unique religious works of art. 

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In the Church of St James in Bramley, Hampshire, two fascinating paintings adorn the walls. The first depicts the brutal murder of St. Thomas Becket, the 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, and the second painting portrays the figure of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers.

The church’s painting of the assassination of Becket is believed to have been created within 50 years of the murderous events of 1170. In the painting, four knights in armor are shown bearing triangular shields. Richard de Brito, the first knight, is depicted thrusting his sword downwards into the archbishop’s head, whose pained expression remains visible some 800 years later. Another knight is shown striking Becket across the head. With a shield bearing the head of a bear, this knight is likely Reginald Fitzurse, as urse translates to bear. The painting is considered to be more accurate than most, as it correctly shows Becket wearing his choir habit instead of communion vestments—a common mistake in other depictions of the event.

The second painting depicts St. Christopher, is located on the opposite wall of the nave. This painting likely dates from the late 15th to early 16th century. The saint is portrayed as a tall, muscular figure. As is customary, he is carrying the Christ child upon his shoulders while wading through a river. Though around 500 years old, the intricate details of the painting remain apparent, with various fish and merfolk swimming around the saint’s feet.

These paintings are significant not only for their artistic value but also for their historical and religious significance. The painting of Becket’s murder is a reminder of the turbulent times of the medieval church, while the painting of St. Christopher reflects the importance of pilgrimage and devotion to saints in the medieval and early modern periods.

Overall, these paintings are a testament to the rich cultural and religious heritage of Bramley and offer a glimpse into the artistic and spiritual world of England’s past.

Know Before You Go

The church is open everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with services at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sundays. 

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February 27, 2024

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