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Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 12:34 UK
Doom painting is church's hidden gem
St Andrew's Doom painting
Doom paintings are most common in 12th to 16th century churches

Souls being led from their graves to Hell and a devil wearing reading glasses is not what you would expect to see on a church wall.

St Andrew's in Chesterton houses one of the few Doom paintings in the country.

While the medieval building has many admirable features, the depiction of bodies being sent to Heaven and Hell above the chancel attracts the eye.

It is a 15th century interpretation of The Last Judgment, painted directly on the church wall.

With Jesus in the central position the dead are being raised from the graves below him, each one judged and then sent to their fate.

Eternal paradise

The artwork is believed to have been completed in the late 1400s. The congregation would sit staring at its stark message - sin and you go to Hell, live a holy life, and you go to Heaven.

"There were no two ways about it. It was a pretty terrifying thing, particularly when you see monks and bishops being led off to hell," said Dr Penny Granger.

St Andrew's Doom painting
The painting depicts souls being dragged to Hell

Dr Granger, who lives in the parish, has studied the painting closely and can spot things the untrained eye may not.

"The most striking thing is the Hell lot - on Christ's left - their bodies are bent and contorted," she said.

"Whereas the Heaven side - on Christ's right - everyone is standing up straight because they are good and going off to eternal paradise."

The painting also reveals a bit about the history of the church. Whitewashed over for hundreds of years the Doom was covered by simple reformation images.

Rare and unique

"There is a Tudor rose on one side and a thistle on the other," said Dr Granger.

"At the Reformation, because images in church were frowned on, the rose and the thistle would have showed that the King is now the head of the church and not the Pope."

There are not many Doom paintings left in the country, probably just over 40, with the most renowned being in Coventry's Holy Trinity Church.

A version painted on wood in Wenhaston, Suffolk, was only discovered when the wood was left out in the rain and the whitewash faded to reveal an impressive piece of work.

The St Andrew's painting is often overshadowed by the mass of history that exists in Cambridge, but Dr Granger insists there are gems to be found, if only people would dig a little deeper.

"Wherever you go, if you can get into a church, there will be something that is interesting to see in it.

"It may be rare, it may be unique. One is surprised by going into these places and discovering things."

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