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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire (†Ely) C.15


Doom, Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire

A great deal of detail is crammed into this enormous Doom at Great Shelford, so some photographs of enlarged details are shown below. All the standard elements of the medieval Doom at its most fully developed before the Reformation are here – the judging Christ sits on a rainbow, the sun at his right, the moon at his left. Copious amounts of blood pour from his wounded arms as he extends them towards the archangels with Instruments of the Passion on either side of him; to his right Michael with the Cross, to his left another archangel, (Raphael maybe), holding the lance and spear with sponge.

detail, John the Baptist in camel skin, Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire

Beyond these on either side are the Virgin Mary, (left-hand side) and John the Baptist (right-hand side). The apartments of heaven are at the far left, a group of the chained damned at the far right. Here at the left is an enlarged detail of John the Baptist, barefoot and draped in his camel skin, complete with dangling camel’s head – an engaging inclusion, reflecting the painter’s attention to detail.

This same quality is evident in the enlarged detail of Heaven, with a crowd of the Blessed gathered below awaiting entry but all seemingly confident of their destination. I think St Peter is in the melée, towards the left, facing outwards, but he is very dificult to see. Heaven is a single building – an ecclesiastical interior looking very like a late medieval cathedral (Ely comes to mind) with Corinthian capitals on the supporting columns and a suggestion of fan-vaulting on the ceiling. A crowd of saved souls waits on the battlemented roof, an identifiable bishop with mitre second from the left.

Doom, Great Shelford, detail, chained in Hell

On the right, or ‘Hell’ of the painting, things are confused, as always. A chain looping around the damned as they are driven towards the (very dim) Hell-mouth can be discerned, but I have isolated this rather attractive, and, I think, quite timeless, portrait of a rising woman from an area just above the apex of the chancel arch, below John the Baptist’s foot. She may be on the Hell side of the painting, but she is outside the restraining chain, and her facial expression is composed, even joyous. She may well be destined for Heaven, not Hell. Let us hope so.

Website for Great Shelford church