But now a pre-Raphaelite mural in a South Yorkshire church could be brought back to life for new generations of worshippers to enjoy, if an application for Heritage Lottery Fund money is given the go-ahead.
The “Ascension Day” mural by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, who has works hanging in galleries including the Tate Britain, was painted on the wall of St John The Evangelist Church, in Hoylandswaine village, when it was built in the 1860s.
But a century or so later, the mural was whitewashed over due to damp.
Church warden Brian Wills said: “I can understand why they made that decision.
“The church wouldn’t have had the money to renovate the mural at that stage, and there also wasn’t the same interest in this type of art so there wouldn’t have been any possiblity of a grant.”
It is thought that Stanhope, who came from the area, painted the mural free of charge.
It shows Christ’s ascension into heaven, surrounded by angels, and is painted with the same rich colours of the stained glass windows above.
Villagers in Hoylandswaine are now preparing to submit an application for grant funding in order to pay for the mural to be restored.
Initial investigations suggest that the mural is in a good state of repair behind the whitewash, although it may cost more than £100,000 to fully restore it.
Rosemary Makings, another church warden at St John The Evangelist, grew up in the village and was baptised, confirmed and married in the church - so remembers the mural well.
She said: “It had such lovely colours, which complemented the stained glass windows.
“When it was painted over in the Sixties, it was during one of the periods when I was living away from the village.
“I think the pre-Raphaelites have come into their own recently, but at that time it might have been seen as a bit old hat.”
The 78-year-old said that the idea of restoring the mural was first raised around five years ago, when she was showing a visitor around the church.
She said: “I happened to mention that there used to be this wonderful painting.
“A couple of weeks later I was rung up by a gentleman called Simon Poey, who was writing a book about Stanhope, and he wanted to come and look at the church.
“He came to visit and I said it was a shame that the painting had been painted over, and I wished we could have it uncovered.
“He said ‘why don’t you’ and, from there, we started making enquiries.
“If we get the money, apparently it will take a conservator about 18 months to do the work. It would be wonderful to see it fully restored.”