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Stolen medieval paintings restored, returned to Devon church

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Alessandra Kelley

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Mar 27, 2011
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Near the gargoyles

In August 2013 two medieval rood screen panels -- priceless, since almost all English church art was destroyed during the Reformation -- were ripped out of their setting in the Holy Trinity church in Torbryan, Devon.

The panels, bearing paintings of St Victor of Marseilles and St Margaret of Antioch and considered of national importance, were stolen in August 2013. They were recovered two years later by the Metropolitan police’s art and antiquities unit after being spotted in an online sale.

An amateur antiques dealer from Trallong, Brecon, has been jailed over the thefts of the panels and other religious artefacts taken from churches across England and Wales.

The painted saints, once part of a procession of 40 panels spanning the width of the church, are exceptionally rare because so few figurative paintings, either on panels or stained glass, survived the flurry of image-smashing during the reformation in the 16th century.

Most rood screens – which originally divided the nave from the altar area and supported carved crosses – were dismantled and either burned or recycled for their wood. Those with representations of saints were particularly targeted.

The Torbryan panels were restored in the 19th century from beneath layers of whitewash, which may have been deliberately applied to protect them from iconoclasts. They were regarded as among the best preserved in Britain.
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