St. Clement’s Church is justly renowned for its frescoes (wall paintings) and inscriptions, which were discovered in 1879 by workmen employed in the extensive restoration.
North Wall of Nave (pictured below left) – On the North wall of the Nave is a representation of St. Michael slaying the dragon. The Archangel is in complete armour, but appears to have lost his helmet. He holds in his hand a broken hilt, of which the blade is near the Dragon, which is stamping his feet.
North Transept – In the north transept, a large mural has been cut in two by the arch which leads into the Eastern portion of the Church (pictured above right). This shows that, at the time the mural was executed (about the 2nd half of the 15th century), this was a solid wall and the chapel behind entirely separate from the Church. All that is left to us is part of St. Margaret with the wing of her conquered dragon and St. Barbara standing by her tower. The legend of St. Margaret is that she was assailed in prison by the Devil in the shape of a horrible dragon. She made the sign of the Cross on her breast, which split him in two, and allowed her to escape safely.
The Crusaders brought over this legend in the 11th century and it became very popular, since the dragon was suppose to personify the Saracens. St. Barbara of Heliopolis in Egypt was beheaded for the Faith in 235AD. Legend asserts that she had been miraculously converted to Christianity.
The presence of this fresco is said to have been due to a prioress belonging to Mont St. Michel. It is possible that when the French, under Count Maulevrie, obtained by treachery the possession of this portion of the island (for a short time in the 15th century) he may have had the work done as a sign of victory.
South Transept - In the South transept, on the West wall, there survive from the original painting the hind legs of a horse, followed by another of which the fore legs appear.
Between the two is the hand of a cavalier stretching down to a dog, whose head is raised toward his master, who is mounted on the leading horse (pictured left).
The inscription below the fresco reads as follows -
“Helas saincte Marie et quelle ces trios mors qui sot cy hideulx mont fait melpre en gnt tristesse de les vois ainxi pitelux.”
(“Alas, St, Mary! Who are these three corpses that are so grim? It breaks my heart to see them thus piteous”).
The legend which this illustrates is known as The Three Living and the Three Dead – an old French poem telling how three young princes, while out hunting, see three horrible corpses who gave them a lecture on the perils of worldly success. Several English Churches (notably Charlwood, Surrey; Battle Sussex; and Ditchingham, Norfolk), have paintings of this story on their walls, as have also many Normandy Churches.
Judging by the lettering these frescoes would date from the second half of the 15th century, though some may be earlier, as the headdresses would seem to belong to the 14th century, and the armour of St. Michael indicates the same period.