Decorative painting outside an occasional picture seems to be a fading if not dead trend. Modern architecture does not seem even to lend itself much to it. This is a shame if we consider our church buildings “catechism in stone” or “catechisms in sheet rock and particle board.” It is an opportunity not just to make our churches look “pretty” but to continue opportunities for education in the faith.
I suppose however the first step is to separate the merely decorative from something that has substance. The decorative is not bad for after all the Mass is a slice of heaven on earth and our buildings might represent this by trying to mirror that beauty. It is, however, simply not our concern for this project.
Paintings of saints are the easiest for they are the most obvious and what we talked about with statues is applicable here also. Other things might not be so clear. Take for example paintings of angels. They might be a merely decorative touch – or they might be a reference from Scripture depending on where they are. Two angels kneeling by the tabernacle might be reminiscent of the arc of the covenant, a cherub on a frame might denote that what is pictured is holy but other than that is decorative. There is a danger both in reading too much into what is there (at which point readers will roll their eyes and say to themselves, “come on”) and missing some very interesting and informative possibilities. Especially if you have a highly decorated church, take your time and give it lots of thought.
Painted symbols might also need more explanation than statuary because they can be a little more difficult to understand. Take the time to explain some of it. For example there was a local church that had in its sanctuary high in the ceiling what looked like to be a giant “S” with three vertical slash lines through it. It looked a bit like a dollar sign; an “$” but with two additional slash lines. This is not a great thing to be misinterpreted for. It was so taken incorrectly that when the church was redone this symbol was replaced. In actuality it was “IHS” put together in an artistic form such as you might find your initials sewn on to your bath towels. “IHS” is the first three letters of the name “Jesus” in Greek and so make up His monogram. This kind of information is very helpful to those for whom you are writing.
There is also the possibility that your church was white washed or had greatly reduced former painting. Such is life. In a separate chapter you might want to find old photographs and tell the symbolism of what once was. This is one reason why: our seminary chapel is a bizarrely constructed building. One can find information of how it was once used and all of a sudden the layout starts to make sense. The paintings that once covered the walls tell the story in more detail. Having the story and the pictures do not change anything today, but besides being interesting explains much and gives a greater appreciation of why it looks the way that it does today.