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Herod’s Feast/Decollation of John the Baptist, with Salome: Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire. C.14 (‡Oxford)

Photo:T.Marshall Herod’s feast, with Salome, Chalfont St. Giles (52KB)
The grisly event is painted in two scenes, both featuring Salome. At the left, she stands at the extreme left, holding the head of John the Baptist on a charger, beside a table set with cups and dishes. Two or possibly three people are at the table, one, in the centre, is probably Herodias, Salome’s mother, another, on the right, seems to have a crown and is likely to be Herod. His hand is raised in horror.

The story unfolds in reverse from right to left. In front of the table Salome is shown dancing, bent backwards with head almost touching the ground and hands supporting her at either side. The pose is deliberately provocative, as in the 15th century painting of the subject at Heydon. There is a trace of another figure in a horizontally striped garment at the far right; this might be a servant holding the charger in readiness - there are also faint traces of something that might be a large circular dish. Beheading of John the Baptist, with Salome, Chalfont St. Giles (41KB)

Painted below and shown at the right is the granting of Salome’s request for the head of the Baptist. At the left his own figure, bending in the arched doorway of what is presumably his prison, is very faint now, but his executioner, in the centre of the scene, is rather clearer. He has the grotesquely exaggerated facial features commonly found in paintings of the torture or execution of Christ and the saints, with a prominent nose and huge jutting chin. His right hand is raised for the death-stroke (virtually all trace of the sword has gone), and he might be grasping John by the hair with his left. Salome appears again, standing at the far right, holding the empty charger.

Salome was a byword for female lasciviousness in the Middle Ages¹ and her mother Herodias had become associated with witchcraft by the 15th century². Paintings of her dance in English churches are rare now, but all of those known to me (including the example at Pickering, now on the site) insist on its indecorous nature. These paintings, juxtaposed as they are with scenes from the Passion and from the Life of the Virgin, must have created a frisson of horror in the churchfolk of medieval Chalfont St. Giles.

Other paintings at Chalfont St. Giles include a Life and Miracles of the Virgin, and The Creation of the Animals/Fall & Expulsion from Eden, both now on the site. Others will be here in due course.

¹ Caesarius of Heisterbach, in a story about traffic in relics, specifically the arm of John the Baptist as “the price of fornication”, cites Salome - “a lascivious girl” - as an evil examplar; In Caesarius of Heisterbach, Distinctio V111, Cap. liii [quoted here from J. Krochalis & E. Peters, The World of Piers Plowman, University of Pennysylvania Press, 1975, p.155]
² Herodias is named, along with “Diana, a goddess of the pagans”, in the Malleus Maleficarum as a leader of those “wicked women, perverted by Satan, [who] believe and profess [that they] ride in the night-time on certain beasts...over immense tracts of land, and have to obey her in all things as their Mistress, etc.” J. Sprenger & H. Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum, 1486, Chapter 111, (trs. M. Summers, Folio Society, London,1968.)

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 2003