Battle to save historic paintings after lead is stolen from Burton Dassett church

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A CHURCH built by the Knights Templars in the 1300s faces a massive bill to protect medieval wall paintings after thieves stripped lead off the roof.

It is the second time in four years that thieves have targeted All Saints in Burton Dassett.

Now parishioners face the prospect next year of not being able to get insurance cover for the roof.

Worshippers also face an uphill struggle to get English Heritage to agree to another metal being used to replace the lead on the Grade I building.

John Anderson, a church warden and treasurer, said: “They took about 10 per cent of the lead but the way they removed it was an act of vandalism.

“They ripped flashings off and damp is getting in – it was wanton vandalism. We’re left now with a £20,000 problem.”

Mr Anderson, who has been associated with he church for 25 years, said he was concerned for the wall paintings which were whitewashed during the Reformation and rediscovered in Victorian times.

“The most dramatic one depicts the crucifixion scene with Mary and St John on either side and two sensing angels,” said Mr Anderson.

“We’re not insured for full damage – cover is only £10,000.”

He said its costs around £25,000 a year for maintenance and upkeep of the building, which is affectionately known as the Cathedral on the Hill because of its size – it can easily hold 400 seated and standing people.

Its upkeep has been funded by English Heritage, charitable bodies, Coventry Diocese and fundraising.

“We’ve had a lot of help from English Heritage and we are hoping for extra help.”

The parish, which also covers Knightcote, Temple Herdewyke and Northend, is exploring the possibility of asking English Heritage if another form of roof covering can be used, including terne-coated steel.

“The other proposal is to take off all the lead and replace it.

“We’ve got it to sell so we could take it off while we’ve still got it. That would cost tens of thousands and unless it’s grant aided, we can’t do it. Lead is easy to steal because you can roll it up, whereas sheet metal is not easy to handle.”

The church is also used by many visitors to the Burton Dassett Hills.

Mr Anderson said: “They come downs off the hills to pray.

“There’s a great deal of affection for the church in the area – it’s part of our country’s heritage.

“If people would like to help with donations, fundraising or ideas they can phone me on 01295 770344.”

There has been a church on the site since the 12th century and there is a holy well next to it.

Because of its Knights Templar connection and since the publication of the fictional Da Vinci Code and film of the same name, the church has attracted many visitors who believe in conspiracy stories regarding Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the once powerful military religious order.