THE biggest shake-up of Ledbury Parish Church since Victorian times is on the cards, to boost visitor numbers even more and to make it a major hub for events and tourism.

But first of all, Ledbury residents are being asked what they think of the ambitious plans, as public consultation gets underway.

The church hit national and international headlines last year, when it was revealed by an art expert that a mysterious Last Supper painting in the parish church may have been worked on by several great masters of the Italian Renaissance, including Tintoretto.

Ian Beer, a member of the church's Building Working Group, said the large-scale re-ordering of St Michael and All Angels Church would help to bring in even more visitors to see the painting, but there had already been numbers of visitors from London "and people from all over the world".

One idea is to have special light-filtering spotlights, which would not harm the sixteenth century painting but "would allow visitors to see it all more clearly".

But this is just one aspect of the proposed re-ordering, which also involves the removal of some of the pews.

Mr Beer said: "Our group has been tasked by the Parochial Church Council to think into the future, as far as St Michael and All Angels is concerned. The church has been very much at the heart of the town for over a thousand years, and during that time it has adjusted according to the state of the church in the country as a whole, whilst also serving a market town, which has been constantly developing.

"However, no development over all those years is likely to be able to match today’s changes – a move from 3000 inhabitants to 10,000 and likely to get bigger very quickly; whilst at the same time a decline in the percentage of people actually coming to church, whilst the building is still, basically, unchanged from that which was there before the turn of the last century. But visitors numbers are over 20,000 a year – it is a star church!"

The revered architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, once famously declared it was the finest parish church in Herefordshire.

But significant changes are being proposed.

Mr Beer said: "We have now reached the stage at which we have ideas to encourage the people of the town to tell us what they think of them. One of the displays is in the church and the other will be set up in the library."

At both locations there will be cards, pens and a box for comments, as part of a consultation process which will continue to the end of the summer.

One idea includes opening the great West Doors as the normal entrance and exit, and only using the present main entrance, the North Door for disabled access.

Another idea is to create a transparent draught barrier foyer of glass at the West Doors, with electronic doors, so the West Doors can let left open, while allowing a direct view of Thomas Ballard fine copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper at the altar, which is another of the church's famous paintings.

The chancel could be extended "with a raised dais to make concerts and plays much more possible".

The ends of the pews extending into the North and South aisles could be removed, "thus making the side aisles free for other purposes but also could be used with stackable chairs for big congregations and audiences".

Mr Beer added: "This gives space for the creation of kitchen and cafe for visitors in the North aisle."

A permanent white screen for projections could be installed, "and the screen to be hidden, when not in use, behind the chancel arch".

At the end of the consultation period, the Building Working Group, which is headed by architect Ian Stainburn, will look at costings and timescale in more detail, ahead of grant applications.