Irene Godfrey

mary de blois in situ 1
amfelisia in situ

St Mary's Church, Higham ME3 7LS

Church on the Edge, 2018
Fiona Spirals and Irene Godfrey-Artists in Residence

Irene Godfrey – Artist in Residence

I am interested in the stories of the nuns who lived at Higham Priory from the 12th to the 16th centuries. I have been looking at church wall paintings of this period and imagining what those at St Mary's might have looked like. I have started to make a short series of works based on selected prioresses' stories inspired by the wall paintings of the time. I am researching the lives of the prioresses and thinking about what sort of freedom of choice these women may have had.

I have visited churches with wall paintings, notably St Mary's Church, Kempley, Gloucestershire and St John's, Clayton, West Sussex and referred to Roger Rosewell's book 'Medieval Wall Paintings'. I am initially working with pastels on primed paper in earth colours that resemble the hues of rediscovered wall paintings. I have chosen to make each work fit an alcove in St Mary's Church. This not only gives the illusion of the work being painted directly onto the wall but also gets over the problem of how to hang work in the church. The works begin as composites of motifs from actual wall paintings. I then grade them up to the required size and work into them.

Mary de Blois 1st prioress from 1151 to 1155
Mary had a life in both the secular and the religious world: daughter of King Stephen, first prioress, then abbess, she was abducted by and married to Matthew of Alsace. She returned to her religious life later when the marriage was annulled. I have chosen to depict her as half nun and half princess using the 'bacon and egg' colours typical of some existing 12th century wall paintings. Her head is based on a mid 13th century painting in Horsham St Faith Priory, Norfolk. I have placed her on the North wall nearest to the Lady Chapel which is dedicated to St Mary.

Amphelisia, 5th prioress from 1275 to 1295
Amphelisia's is a watery story: she failed in her duty to upkeep repair of the causeway that lead to the Thames ferry. Therefore I have placed her on the North wall opposite the church door where, according to John Viger, there would have been a large wall painting of St Christopher (who, legend has it, carried travellers across a dangerous river). Appropriating motifs from paintings of St Christopher and St Nicholas, I have used a brown / green earth palette. The Amphelisia figure is based on an early 14th century female figure in Ilketshall St Andrew, Suffolk.

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