Priceless religious wall paintings are at risk, warns a charity launching an appeal to save them.

English Heritage warns the ancient relics are at risk from the vagaries of our climate and ham-fisted past efforts to restore them. It fears works at some of the 77 sites it cares for, including five in Norfolk, could disappear forever.

They include 13th Century patterning and a 14th Century rendition of the Magi at Castle Acre Priory, near Swaffham; 12th Century decorative lettering at Binham Priory, near Wells and 12th Century decorations at Castle Rising Castle, near King's Lynn.

Norfolk's riches also include 12th Century patterning at Thetford Priory and 14th Century motifs including the Virgin Mary at Greyfriars' Abbey, Great Yarmouth.

Rachel Turnbull, English Heritage's senior collections conservator, said: "Wall paintings are the most challenging type of art to care for, but they offer a precious insight into England's story.

"For thousands of years people of the past have left little traces, glimpses into their everyday lives through richly decorated wall paintings. Be they domestic or religious, these artworks tell a story about the people who painted them and the communities who lived or worshipped in these buildings centuries ago."

English Heritage's collection stretches back as far as the painted walls at Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent to the Victorian gothic decoration at St Mary's Church Studley Royal in North Yorkshire.

Many of the wall paintings in the collection are at medieval abbeys, priories and churches, ranging from simple decoration to large-scale religious scenes and include the internationally-important art at St Mary's Church, Kempley in Gloucestershire.

It is now checking all the wall paintings in its care to accurately assess the extent of the deterioration and set out the conservation solution for each.

It says £20 could buy specialist mortar for repairs, £40 could combat flaking surfaces while £70 will pay for multispectural imaging, revealing details invisible to the human eye.

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