A 60-YEAR-OLD churchgoer felt like a 'child discovering buried treasure' when he made an amazing find behind the altar.
Stuart Tunstall, of Bolton Avenue, Windsor had his attention drawn to some uneven wooden panelling behind the altar while trying to find the foundation stone at All Saints Church in Frances Road that had been laid by Queen Victoria's daughter Vicky.
Lying on his back and shining his torch through a tiny gap at the panelling's base he caught a glimpse of something that took his breath away.
The church had been designed by Thomas Hardy - the famous Victorian author of Tess of the D'Urbavilles, Far From the Madding Crowd and the Mayor of Casterbridge.
Mr Tunstall said: "As I looked behind the panelling I immediately recognised what I saw from old drawings that had turned up behind the organ. Everyone thought they were just drawings but it turned out they were designs for a beautiful altar-piece Hardy had designed that had been covered behind new oak panelling in the 1920s and everyone had just forgotten about it.
"I was like a child who had discovered hidden treasure and I have never seen the parishioners so excited."
There followed extensive visits and consultations from ecclesiastical experts who had to give permission before the oak panelling could be removed. Now it only remains to reveal once again the full glory of Hardy's creation.
But first the church needs to raise about £9,000 to pay for the work to be done. It has launched a fund raising campaign and hopes the altar-piece can be on public view next year.
Mr Tunstall has lived in Windsor 26 years and All Saints has been his local church for 15. He works as a management consultant coaching British Transport police officers and scientists in leadership skills. He is married to Zo and has a son Adam.
He said: "This discovery will put the church on the global tourist map. Thousands of Hardy devotees around the world will want to see it."
But how did such a treasure come to be covered up and forgotten.
Windsor's Rector Reverend Ainsley Swift blames a 1920s trend for making churches more homely by covering everything in wood panelling.
He said: "Every era does something like this and ends up regretting it."
You can donate by going to JUSTGIVING.COM and using the Search machine for Thomas Hardy Altarpiece or go direct to https://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/new-windsorpcc/thomashardyaltarpiece