The mural on the west wall of Chaldon church is one of the earliest known English wall paintings – it dates from about 1200 and is without equal in any other part of Europe. It is thought to have been painted by a travelling artist-monk.
The picture depicts the ‘Ladder of Salvation of the Human Soul’ together with ‘Purgatory and Hell’. Wall paintings of this kind were intended as a visual aid to religious teaching.
At some stage in the 17th century, the painting was white-washed over. In 1869 when the Rector had decorators in, he noticed signs of colour and stopped the work. Later it was covered with a protective wax coating, which over the years caused it to lose colour owing to the growth of mould underneath. This was removed in 1989 when the mural was cleaned and conserved.
The whole picture is in the form of a cross, formed by the Ladder and the horizontal division between Heaven and Hell. Starting at the lower right, we have the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, loaded with fruit, with Satan as a serpent in the branches. Two devils hold up a ‘bridge of spikes’ which dishonest tradesmen have to cross. First, the blacksmith making a horseshoe without his anvil, then a mason without a chisel, the spinners without a distaff, and a potter without a wheel. Below the bridge, the usurer is sitting in flames. He is blind, money pours from his mouth, and he has to count it all (avarice). On his right two figures represent envy, while on the left, two figures embrace – lust. The remaining deadly sins are scattered around in small scenes to the left of the ladder.
Above the ladder is a cloud containing the head and shoulders of Christ, with the sun on his right and the moon on his left.
At the lower left hand edge of the wall painting on the west wall is a well defined cross from the original consecration of the church.