touching place

St Peter And St Paul, Chaldon, Surrey

To first find a turning for Chaldon is not easy, owing to a lack of signposts, and then you have to drive into deeply rural south Surrey countryside, looking out for a Church Lane. From the outside, the church is a small, insignificant building, but once inside you are hit in the face by a huge mural c.1200 in yellow and dark red on the west wall, something you definitely do not expect, especially the subject matter of the Ladder of Salvation, strongly featuring Purgatory and Hell. There is nothing like it anywhere else in England.

The Ladder of Salvation forms a vertical central division of the mural, with the two-way traffic of souls both ascending and descending; the horizontal division of the mural is between Purgatory and Hell. The visual material of Hell as usual proved exceptionally interesting to the medieval artist. In the bottom left-hand corner, two demons are feeding people into a large heated cauldron, while in the opposite corner two more demons hold a spiked bridge for dishonest tradesmen – a blacksmith tries to make horseshoes without an anvil; a potter lacks a wheel; a mason has no chisel; spinners have no distaff. Below them, demons encourage a lustful couple, while two demons suspend a usurer, weighed down

by his money bags, over a very hot fire. Above them all Our Lord transfixes the devil with the staff of the Resurrection, St Michael is weighing souls and other angels assist souls on their upward journey towards the cloudy region of Heaven.

Salvation is no genteel, middle-class matter. Recall the words of St Paul to the church in Philippi, ‘work out your own salvation with fear, and trembling’ (Philippians 2.12).

Grid reference: TQ 308557

Simon Cotton

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