The painting of the Last Judgement
During the 1430s, the painting of the Last Judgement, also known as the "Coventry Doom", was created above the tower arch to demonstrate the eternal consequences of both charitable and uncharitable acts.
The picture may have been created as a result of Coventry having experienced an earthquake around that time, making church leaders think that the Day of Judgement was soon to come.
The painting has twice disappeared from view across the centuries, as a result of ancient types of wash and varnish, but after years of painstaking restoration and conservation, it was finally revealed in 2004. It is said to be one of the most important discoveries in the field of medieval art.
About the painting
'Doom' or 'Last Judgment' paintings were a familiar and striking sight to medieval church goers. They depicted the image of judgment, blessing and damnation described in Chapter 25 of Matthew's gospel:
When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with him, He will sit on his throne. He will separate men into two groups, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left. Then the king will say to those on His right hand, "You have my Father's blessing; come, enter and possess the kingdom that has been ready for you since the world was made..." Then He will say to those on his left hand, "The curse is upon you; go from my sight to the eternal fire that is ready for the devil and his angels.....
(Matthew 25 v31-34 and 41)
Christ sits in the centre with the twelve disciples on either side. To His right kneels Mary amidst the dead rising from their graves. Above them is the stair to heaven. To Christ's left kneels John the Baptist who appears to be pleading for the souls of the damned below him. These unfortunates include two kings, a cardinal and a monk, not to mention the city's ale wives who were thought to be corrupt, over-charging customers and watering down the ale!
The image of Hell's Mouth found in the painting is a standard representation of hell, which could also have been seen in the streets outside the church in Coventry's Mystery Plays at the time. The creature depicted as Hell's mouth is the Leviathan from the book of Job, chapter 41, whose 'breath sets burning coals ablaze, and flames flash from his mouth.'
Perhaps the most significant detail is that of Christ himself, his hands, side and feet revealing their still bloody wounds. This is not an unfeeling or uncompassionate judge. Jesus paid the price for all sin on the cross; the painting reveals His compassion and the hope that He brings to all who repent and follow Him.
If you would like more information about the painting, there is a short book about it, available to buy either at the welcome desk in the church or by emailing the office. The cost is £4, with an additional £1 for postage and packing if you would like it sent to you.