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The Life of John the Baptist/Baptism of Christ: Cerne Abbas, Dorset (‡Salisbury [Sarum]) C14

Photo:T.Marshall John the Baptist before Herod and Herodias, Cerne Abbas (74KB)

This rare painting (left) of John the Baptist before Herod and Herodias is part of a series of the life and death of the saint. There were once several more scenes, but only those on this page are really identifiable now.

John, in his short but voluminous robe is at the left. He has a halo and his left hand is raised as if in rebuke; this may in fact be the moment when he told Herod and Herodias that their marriage was not lawful. Herod, who has a large crown and a heavily furred robe, is further right, and his wife Herodias, also crowned, is at the far right.

Another scene, which is probably Herod’s Feast, follows, but it is very obscure now. Finally, in a further clear scene, John is beheaded. The executioner, his prominent sword raised above his head, stands at the left. Decollation of John the Baptist, Cerne Abbas (77KB)John himself is a confused and obscure figure at the lower right, where his body seems to be held in the crook of the executioner’s left arm. Quite where his head is is difficult to say - Tristram thought it was dangled by the executioner over a platter carried by two women, one of them perhaps Salome. This, although entirely consistent with the story, is impossible to confirm now, but there are certainly other figures at the far left of the scene, so Tristram’s interpretation of it is probably essentially correct.

The other clear scene is the Baptism of Christ (below, left), obviously harking back to an earlier point in John’s life. Christ stands centrally, with a halo and a loincloth, his hands clasped before him in prayer. At the left is John, reaching upwards towards Christ’s head. Part of his head, robe and his legs and feet are reasonably clear, but he is rather a vague figure otherwise. Another figure Baptism of Christ, Cerne Abbas (73KB)may stand behind him, and at the right is an angel holding garments. The perspective detail in the angel’s wings, held behind and partly over its head, is impressive for (Tristram’s) date of about 1360. In fact, all the paintings show this understanding of perspectival space to some extent, and the heads and faces in the scene of John before Herod and Herodias are painted with considerable naturalistic flair. These were made by an accomplished painter. They have been retouched, but this is unlikely to have altered the general articulation and layout.

The only other paintings in the church are of Biblical texts from the Geneva Bible of 1560 in painted shields on the nave walls. We know that three of these were made in 1679 by a painter called Robert Ford, and that he was paid three guineas for them.

Paintings of the Baptism of Christ are not common, but there is one other on the site, at Black Bourton in Oxfordshire. Links to paintings of saints are in the table below.

Website for St Mary’s, Cerne Abbas

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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Anne Marshall 2006***