Paintings Sell For Nearly £1m

Paintings dating back to the 14th century which have hung on the walls of a village church for around 150 years have fetched almost £1 million at auction.

The set of four paintings depicting Christ were revealed to be valuable artworks by Italian artist Niccolo di Pietro Gerini after cleaning work was carried out on them in the 1990s.

Until then the fine works had been hung at St Michael and All Angels' Church in Withyham, East Sussex, after they were donated by Edward John Ottley in the 1840s.

When the background of the paintings became clear, it was decided they would not be returned to the church, partly due to inadequate security and environmental conditions.

The artworks - which date from about 1390 - were transferred on loan to Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent, in the 1990s, and sold yesterday at Sotheby's in London for £950,000, the Diocese of Chichester said.

The Betrayal of Christ - GeriniFull-size copies of the paintings continue to be hung at the church, and proceeds from the sale will be used to produce an income for the repair and maintenance of St Michael's.

The Rev Adrian Leak, the priest in charge at St Michael's, said Mr Ottley will "rejoice that once again Withyham church will benefit from his gift''.

Permission to sell the paintings was given by the chancellor of Chichester diocese, Mark Hill, on the basis that they had no "integral part'' in the history of the church.

It was also felt that the works were unlikely to return to the church and they could yield much-needed income which Mr Ottley intended by his gift, according to officials.

Mr Hill said: "The nest egg must be allowed to hatch.''

Paintings by Gerini have adorned the walls of the Vatican and feature in private collections and galleries across the world, including in New York, Rome and London.