WHEN the historic Comm-andery reopens next year, visitors will be able to see a stunning array of awe-inspiring wall paintings.

The Mediaeval paintings cover the walls and ceiling of a room evocatively named The Dying Room.

They have not been viewed by the public since they were first discovered in 1935.

The paintings date back to about 1500 when the Commandery was known as St Wulstan's hospital and the room itself has been identified as the infirmary chapel.

One painting - a depiction of the martyrdom of St Thomas a Becket - is particularly rare.

Images of Thomas a Becket's martyrdom were very common in Mediaeval art, but in 1538 King Henry VIII sanctioned the destruction of shrines to Roman Catholic saints and ordered images of Becket to be destroyed. Very few now remain. The Commandery depiction shows the saint kneeling in front of an altar. The knight Reginald Fitz-urese is shown striking him. Amanda Lunt, manager of the Commandery, said: "Because of the way the wall paintings have been cleaned you can really see every detail, details of each face and costume.

"They would have been modelled on the people of that time, and it's wonderful to think that these images reflect the real people who would have actually been walking around here hundreds of years ago."

The paintings were originally discovered in 1935 when John Kennard was preparing to whitewash the walls of the building, then a printing works owned by the Littlebury family. When some of the plaster was removed a segment of the paintings was revealed. Full sized water-colour reproductions of the nine paintings and a reduced scale drawing of the ceiling were completed and exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but following bad restoration jobs, the room was closed.

The museum is due to open next spring. The shop and visitor information remain open Monday to Friday.


THE mediaeval wall paintings also depict:

* St Godwald, a local saint, to whom The Commandery Chapel was dedicated.

* The Weighing of the Souls - St Michael is shown holding the scales, while a devil tries to pull down the left-hand scale. The Virgin intercedes by placing her rosary on the right hand scale.

* St Etheldreda is portrayed wearing a crown and carrying a book and crozier, reflecting her position as founder and first Abbess of Ely in the 7th Century.

* St Roch, who dedicated himself to nursing victims of the plague. He is shown being visited by an angel, who struck his thigh, bursting a painful plague boil.

* St Peter is shown holding two large golden keys in his left hand and an archbishop's crozier in his right.

* St Anne and the Virgin - the virgin's mother is shown teaching Mary to read.

* The Crucifixion - only the upper part of this scene remains.

* The Martyrdom of St Erasmus - showing the saint being tortured by having his bowels removed with a windlass. He was often invoked in cases of abdominal disease.