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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 08:18 GMT
Medieval altarpiece is restored
The altarpiece dates from the 1330s

Britain's largest surviving medieval altarpiece is returning to a village church following an eight-year restoration project.

The piece, thought to be 670-years-old, is being reinstalled at St Mary's Church in Thornham Parva, Suffolk after restoration work at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge, part of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Anthea Case, director of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: "It's wonderful that this work of art is now back in Thornham Parva church.

"The retable (altar structure) was in urgent need of conservation and the task was well beyond the resources of the small village church to which it belongs."

Work has been carried out on the painted oak altarpiece since 1994, with 240,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, English Heritage, the local parochial church council and the Council for the Care of Churches.

The altarpiece is "a great national treasure"

The Thornham Parva Retable is believed to have been created by a workshop in Norwich in the 1330s for Thetford Priory in Norfolk.

It is 12ft long and depicts the crucifixion with figures of the Virgin and St John flanked by eight panel paintings of saints set on a gilt background.

During a 300-year period in its history the altarpiece disappeared and was saved from destruction after the dissolution of the monasteries in the early 16th century.

It reappeared in 1927 when it was found in a loft above a stable at Thornham Hall, Suffolk, and installed in the small thatched church of St Mary.

Richard Halsey, east of England director for English Heritage, said: "Like many congregations all over the country, the parishioners of Thornham Parva have shouldered the burden of safeguarding a great national treasure."



Medieval coins go to museum
21 Jan 03 |  England
New shrine for Suffolk church
10 Sep 02 |  England

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