Maps: OS Landranger 100; Outdoor Leisure 27
Start: Kirby Misperton road junction (779793)
Finish: Pickering roundabout (799838)
Distance: 4.2 miles
Natural England NCA: 26 (Vale of Pickering)
Special interest: Kirby Misperton, St Peter and St Paul Church Pickering and town
From the bus stop in the centre of the village, take the road out of Kirby Misperton to the bridleway at (A) and follow this to Lendales Farm. Going right, left and right again through the farmyard, join Lendales Lane at (B) and walk northwards. Looking south-west you can see the exiting rides at Flamingoland against the skyline. At (C) leave the road and follow Pickering Beck. Cross the old Ings Bridge and walk on the right of the beck, past Pickering Low Mill, on a very attractive path into Pickering. When the path joins Mill Lane at (D) turn right on the Lane and then there’s soon another very short right turn to the Malton Road (A169). Go left to the roundabout, then left again to Smiddy Hill/Birdgate and walk up to the parish Church to see the mediaeval wall paintings.
Hopefully impressed and inspired, return to the bus stop on the other side of the roundabout.
St Peter and St Paul Church, Pickering contains an outstanding collection of medieval wall paintings (or ‘frescoes’) which give a vivid idea of what many churches really looked like in the Middle Ages. At that time nearly all churches are thought to have been partially or completely painted inside. But this was not for artistic decoration. The paintings were there as aids to worship and to allow the largely illiterate congregations to understand Bible stories. (In fact, wall paintings have been described as the Biblia Pauperum, or Poor Man’s Bible.)
The arcades in the church date from the 12th century and above them are the mid-15th century paintings. On the north side there are saints: George with a surprised looking dragon, Christopher with some very odd fish, Edmund killed by twenty arrows and John the Baptist beheaded. On the south side St Catherine is shown suffering martyrdom. Then come the seven ‘Corporal Acts of Mercy’. The first six of these come from Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in St Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25. Here Christ commends the actions of those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and tend the sick. A seventh Act of Mercy, that of burying the dead, was added to the list by the Church in the Middle Ages. Following on from these Seven Acts of Mercy are scenes from Christ’s passion and resurrection.
The paintings survived because they were whitewashed, and so not visible, probably during the Reformation. They were discovered during repair work in 1852 but the vicar, a Mr Ponsonby, declared them to be full of ‘Popish superstitions’ and therefore out of place in a Protestant church. He had them covered over again a fortnight later and they remained hidden until a refurbishment of the building in the 1880s.
A beautifully designed booklet by Christopher Ellis with photos and descriptions of the paintings is available inside the church. At the time of writing, an appeal for £1.5 million has been launched in order to conserve the paintings, which are rated among the finest in northern Europe, and to provide better lighting and heating in the building.