Altarpiece restored

Painting conservators from the Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge, work on Britain's largest surviving medieval altarpiece.

The altarpiece was yesterday returned to a small rural church following a restoration project which lasted for eight years.

The rare 15ft-long piece was unveiled at St Mary's church, Thornham

Parva, near Eye, in Suffolk.

Created by a Norwich workshop in the 1330s, the oak Thornham Parva Retable depicts the Crucifixion with painted and gilt figures of saints.

At one point in its chequered history the altarpiece was lost for 150 years until its discovery

on a woodpile in a stable.

Churchwarden Martin Kay said that the piece, believed to be worth millions of pounds, is thought to have been created for a Dominican priory at Thetford, Norfolk.

Mr Kay said: "Although it looked fine, there had been over-painting and touching-up over the centuries which wasn't

of the same quality and was peeling off the original 14th century paint.

"This is the centre of the church, which is the centre of the village.

"It was made in the days when most people couldn't read or write so it draws attention to the history of the gospels and the church. It is the best-preserved and largest medieval painting of its kind on wood."