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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Great Harrowden (†Peterborough) C.15


All Dooms above the chancel arch are by definition in an elevated position, but the Great Harrowden Doom sits particularly high, up at clerestory level – the position of the screen and the light fitting will give some idea of the scale and proportions.
This is not a sophisticated painting, but it is nevertheless one of the best and most complete Dooms in England.

Great Harrowden Doom

Christ sits on a rainbow, the separate colours of which have been carefully painted and show well (after restoration). He has the tripartite halo reserved for Persons of the Trinity and displays the wounds in his hands and side. Kneeling beside and below him with hands clasped in prayer are the Virgin Mary (who is crowned as Queen of Heaven) and St John the Evangelist Also flanking the judging Christ are two angels – the one on the left of the painting holding the Cross, the one on the right the Lance and possibly the Sponge on a lance as well.

Great Harrowden, Doom, detail

The two stick-like objects hanging from the transverse bar of the Cross are presumably other Instruments of the Passion, perhaps the clubs and staves used to beat Christ At the top of the painting two trumpets (very similar to those at West Somerton) and faint traces of the trumpeting angels’ arms are visible.

To the left of the angel with the Cross is St Peter, fully robed as a bishop and wearing either a mitre or the Papal Tiara. He stands in front of a golden door, with the ribs of a vault springing from a narrow pillar beside him, and indicates with his right hand a building which seems to be made of bricks, rather than stone.

With his left hand, Peter grasps that of the first figure standing naked (apart from a crown) in line beside him. Some of the other figures wear identifying hair or headgear too – one has a prominent bluish mitre, the man beside him a monkish tonsure.

Below Peter and his group, coffins, some with crosses on their lids, and graves are opening. Some souls have already come out, and kneel beside their coffins, others are still inside, but upright and obviously in the act of rising at the sound of the trumpets. Two such, who share a coffin or tomb just below Peter’s feet, are still in their shrouds, knotted on top of their heads as was customary in the 15th century. Another figure, also still in a shroud now shown open like a cloak, kneels to the left of these two and another in the same attitude and garb shows faintly at the lower left edge of the picture.

Great Harrowden, Doom, detail

The rising dead are confined to this left-hand side of the painting, apart from one kneeling hopefully below and between Christ and St John. The right-hand side is fully taken up with the fate of the damned. Very prominent on this side are several large linked chains, fastened to uprights posts.

Coralled within these are more naked souls, shown against a background of flames and being drawn into the truly terrible mouth of a Hell-Creature which manages to be simultaneously whale-like and reptilian, its great eye showing at the extreme right of the painting. Two souls (a man and a woman, I think) fall, helplessly upside-down, into the hell-mouth from above.

The painting, comparatively rustic as it is, has an exuberant energy despite its sombre subject. It has been very sensitively restored and has nothing of the Disneyesque feel that clings to some restored Dooms. Somewhere under it is an even earlier Doom, but this one is far too valuable to lose.

Website for All Saints, Great Harrowden

Detail Photos: Copyright © 2000 Doctor Digi /Digital Atlas of England