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The Life of St.Catherine : Castor, Cambridgeshire. (‡Peterborough) C.14

Martyrdom of St. Catherine, Castor [118KB]
The entire painting, in three tiers, is at the left, with an enlarged detail showing Catherine with the wheels below. Elizabeth Hirst undertook a full restoration, involving the removal of a surface coat of wax from an earlier restoration, the paint layer and the plaster beneath, and then a full repainting, in 1986/7. It is one of the best radical restorations I have seen, entirely convincing in its faithfulness to the original. The upper tier is fragmentary, but it is probably an early scene from Catherine’s life, perhaps involving the pagan Emperor Maxentius, who first tried to woo Catherine, then tried to undermine her faith by argument, and finally had her killed.

The clearer scene in the second tier shows the incident involving fifty philosophers ordered by Maxentius to argue Catherine from her faith. Instead, she converted them, and the Emperor had them thrown, unbaptised, into the fire. At the left, Catherine stands under the narrower of two painted canopies above the scene. To her right is the seated Maxentius, making the dramatically downward pointing gesture that sealed the philosophers’ fate. They are shown at the far right, huddled together with the flames rising around them. The standing figure in the centre is difficult to pronounce on. He may be an executioner throwing logs on the fire or holding an upright curved sword to prevent any escape. But above him is a red ochre shape in what looks like a flying posture - this is, perhaps, an angel coming down to confirm the philosophers’ baptism of fire. Below, in the lowest tier, is the best known incident in Catherine’s story, the attempt to break her on the wheel. There are two wheels here, one in the centre and one at the right, and some paintings of Catherine, particularly in manuscripts, have more. Martyrdom of St. Catherine, Castor, detail [117KB]Catherine stands once more at the far left, bound and stripped to the waist, with the central wheel further right and an executioner turning the handle. There is what looks like a further, seated, figure, probably Maxentius again, beside him. Catherine is shown again standing between this turning wheel and another at the far right.

Catherine survived this ordeal (she was finally beheaded) because of heavenly intervention. In some versions of her legend, a thunderbolt breaks the wheels, killing bystanders. An imaginative late 15th century interpretation in the Simon Marmion Hours¹ shows the two wheels breaking apart and simultaneously bursting into flames as an angel with a mallet hovers above. An angel in the Castor example is shown just above Catherine’s head, and may be about to intervene in a similar way.
There are no other wall paintings now visible at Castor, but much else of great interest survives from the Middle Ages, including fine Saxon carving. It is the only church in Britain dedicated to St.Kyneburgha, a daughter of the stubbornly pagan King Penda of Mercia.

¹ Illustrated in Books of Hours and their Owners, John Harthan, Thames & Hudson, 1977, p. 146 [V&A, London, Salting Collection, No.1221, fol.15v-16]

St. Andrew Martyred, Stoke Dry, Rutland St. Anne teaching the Virgin to read-Corby Glen, Lincolnshire St. Antony and the Pig, Barton, Cambridgeshire St. Barbara : Hessett, Suffolk St. Bartholomew : Selling, Kent St.Catherine of Alexandria, life of : Castor, Cambs St Catherine of Alexandria, Cold Overton, Leicestershire NEW St.Catherine of Alexandria : Hardley Street, Norfolk
St.Catherine of Alexandria : Old Weston, Northants St.Catherine of Alexandria : Pickering, N. Yorks St.Catherine of Alexandria, life of : Sporle, Norfolk St. Catherine of Alexandria, Martyrdom of: Burton Latimer, Northants NEW St. Catherine of Alexandria or another female saint : Ashley, Hampshire NEW St. Clement : South Leigh, Oxon. Scenes from the life of St. Cuthbert : Pittington, Co. Durham NEW St. Dunstan holding the Devil by the nose : Barton, Cambs
St.Edmund : Boxford, Suffolk St. Edmund : Lakenheath, Suffolk St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Bishopsbourne, Kent St.Edmund, Martyrdom of : Fritton, Norfolk St. Edmund (or St. Walstan) : Gisleham, Norfolk St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Pickering, N.Yorks St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Stoke Dry, Rutland St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Troston, Suffolk
St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Weare Giffard, Devon St.Eloi, Broughton, Bucks St. Eloi and the possessed horse, Slapton, Northants St. Eloi, as bishop & blacksmith, Wensley, N.Yorks St.Erasmus, Martyrdom of : Chippenham, Cambs St. Etheldreda : Willingham, Cambs St. Francis Preaching to the Birds : Little Kimble, Bucks St.Francis Preaching to the Birds : Wissington, Suffolk
St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, Slapton, Northants St. George & Dragon : Banningham, Norfolk St. George & Dragon : Broughton, Bucks St. George & Dragon : Earl Stonham, Suffolk St. George & Dragon : Fritton, Norfolk St. George & Dragon : Hornton, Oxon St. George dedicating himself to the Virgin : Astbury, Cheshire St. George, with the princess : Little Kimble, Bucks
St. George & the Dragon : Kirtlington, Oxon NEW St.Helena, Broughton, Bucks St.James the Great : Hales, Norfolk Life of St. James, Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire St. James the Great, meeting pilgrims : Wisborough Green, Sussex St. James the Great, Yelden (or Yielden), Beds NEW St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Heydon, Norfolk
St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Idsworth, Hampshire St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Old Weston, Northants St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Pickering, N. Yorks Life of St. John the Baptist : Cerne Abbas, Dorset St. John the Evangelist, Selling, Kent St. John the Evangelist, Weston Longville, Norfolk St. Margaret of Antioch : Old Weston, Northants St. Margaret and the dragon : South Newington, Oxfordshire
St. Margaret of Antioch Martyred, Stoke Dry, Rutland St. Margaret of Antioch, Life of : Charlwood, Surrey Life of St. Margaret, Wendens Ambo, Essex Martyrdom of St. Margaret, Duxford, Cambridgeshire Martyrdom of St. Margaret, Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire NEW St. Martin dividing his cloak, Chalgrave, Beds St. Martin dividing his cloak, Wareham, Dorset St Michael, with kneeling donor, South Newington, Oxfordshire
St.Nicholas of Myra, life of : Little Horwood, Bucks
St. Nicholas of Myra, two miracles of : Wissington, Suffolk St. Nicholas of Myra & the Boys in the Barrel, Padworth, Berkshire St. Nicholas of Myra & the Boys in the barrel, Bishopsbourne, Kent NEW St.Paul : Black Bourton, Oxon St. Paul : Beckley, Oxon St. Paul : Selling, Kent St. Peter : Beckley, Oxon
St.Peter : Black Bourton, Oxon St. Peter, Martyrdom of : Chacombe, Northants St. Peter : Selling, Kent SS. Peter & Paul, Old Idsworth, Hampshire NEW St. Roch : Pinvin, Worcs St. Sexburga? : Willingham, Cambs S. Stephen, Martyrdom of, North Stoke, Oxon St. Stephen, Stoning of: Black Bourton, Oxon
St. Stephen, Stoning of: Catfield, Norfolk St.Swithun (?) enthroned : Old Weston, Northants Scenes from the life of St. Swithun : Corhampton, Hampshire St. Thomas Becket, blessing, Hauxton, Cambs. Archbishop, possibly Thomas Becket, blessing, Shorthampton, Oxfordshire NEW St. Thomas Becket, Murder of, Marston Magna, Somerset St. Thomas Becket, Murder of, North Stoke, Oxfordshire St.Thomas Becket, Murder of : South Burlingham, Norfolk
St. Thomas Becket, Murder of : South Newington, Oxfordshire St. Walstan of Bawburgh? or St. Edmund : Gisleham, Norfolk St. Zita : Horley, Oxon St. Zita : Shorthampton, Oxon Unidentified female saint : Heydon

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