Thomas Becket paintings unveiled in Spain





The paintings in the ruined church of St Nicolas in the Spanish town of Soria tell the story of the murder of the English Archbishop Thomas Becket.

The story of Becket is told in most British classrooms as part of medieval history lessons. He is remembered as the Archbishop of Canterbury who stood up to a king and for his trouble was murdered by the king's knights while he was praying.

The murder was to turn Becket into a saint. It was also one of the first big showdowns between the Roman Catholic Church and a European monarchy.

King Henry II never forgave himself for his role in the murder of his political foe and his guilty conscience found its way to Spain. His daughter, Eleanor of England, married the Spanish King, Alfonso VIII.

As a way of asking God to forgive her father, Eleanor commissioned paintings of the murder of Becket to adorn the walls of a church in the northern Spanish town of Soria.

Today the church of Saint Nicolas is a complete wreck near Soria's main square, but three decades ago, builders were stabilising the ruin when they re-discovered these medieval paintings in excellent condition.

Disappearing fast

Since then a glass panel together with a wooden board have been the only protection for these beautiful works of art that are otherwise exposed to the open air.

Luis Romera has been campaigning with a group of locals for several years to get the paintings properly restored. "The paintings are important because there is nothing like them in all Spain," he says.

"It is intriguing enough to find a painting in a medieval church depicting a murder, and even more so when it is in Spain, and this is more to do with the history of England!"

Luis says this shared history needs to be saved but that it has to be done quickly before the paintings completely disappear.

When the Soria town council agreed to reveal the Thomas Becket paintings to the BBC and a small gathering of local media, it was clear what Luis meant. Compared to photos taken when they were rediscovered in the late 1970s, half of the work has vanished...

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