Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 16:35 UK
The Sistine chapel of the north
Great Witley church
The ceiling of Great Witley church (picture by Mark Austin)

This wonderful church in Worcestershire was left untouched by the great fire that destroyed the adjacent stately home, Witley Court.

Thanks to this, visitors can still marvel at the church's interior, complete with gilded decorations and paintings by Antonio Bellucci.

It also has ten painted glass windows depicting scenes from the New Testament.

The church has excellent acoustics, and hosts many concerts.

Hidden treasures

The small church looks quite modest from the outside, but once you step through the doorway you find yourself in the midst of a stunning work of art.

The church uses Italian Baroque architecture and is filled with arguably the world's best collection of paintings by Antonio Bellucci, which decorate the recently restored ceiling.

The building also contains beautiful painted plaster details, the first known examples of papier mache, ten painted glass windows depicting scenes from the New Testament, highly decorative carving, and a large monument by Rysbrack.

Restoration

Dr Paul Johnson started the church restoration programme in 1961 and he has helped the parishioners raise more than a million pounds since then towards preserving the building and art:

Witley Court
The front of Witley Court (picture by Frederick Lampitt)

"I feel really privileged to be a parishioner here; it was my good fortune to be bombed out of London in 1940, and my Father brought his children out here so I've known the church intimately since then.

"Had the restoration not succeeded, then one of two things would probably have happened; the whole church may have been taken to London and the works would almost definitely have been consumed by dry rot.

"The art here is totally unique; there's nothing like it in Britain, if not the world, but this is our parish church and it's not a museum and so we take a pride in it.

"Both my wife and I spend so much time here, we've been here nine or ten times in the past few weeks.

"It's a bit of a magnet and you can't really get away from it," he laughs.

"Whenever you come up here, and the church is empty and lonely, there's a real spiritual side to being here.

"I can't explain it - we all feel the same.

"It's a great privilege to be custodians of this unique church."




SEE ALSO
Mystery buyer for country house
16 Dec 08 |  Hereford/Worcs
Royal restart for historic fountain
24 Nov 03 |  Hereford/Worcs

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