St Mary the Virgin, Burton Latimer

The church has a “Church Open” sign as I cycle past, so I pop in, and find the 13th century wall paintings. There was a cult of St Catherine here then.

Catherine challenged the pagan emperor Maxentius for his persecution of Christians. He brought the best philosophers to argue with her, but she refuted them all. He proposed marriage, but she declared herself espoused to Christ. Then he killed her. Angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where her hair still grew and healing oil flowed from her body.

These pictures were covered in layers of limewash. It is amazing they have survived. They were restored in the 1970s. There has been a church here since the middle ages.

I have light conversation- mostly things we can agree on- with the woman who staffs the church on Sunday afternoons when it is open. We don’t know much about church architecture, but we know those arches further from the altar are Romanesque, those Gothic. We tend to like the altar brought forward West of the choir, so that the priest celebrates facing the congregation. She likes the 1662 rite, loving the richness and familiarity of the language she grew up with. You don’t have to try to understand what the prayer is saying, just dwell on aspects of it.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel date from 1600. I am surprised that the church would be so high as to have that decoration then. This was such a wealthy area, with so much to spend adorning its churches.

There is a tiny face in the bottom corner of one of the St Catherine paintings. Is it later? It is in Mediaeval form, but very clear.

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