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Martyrdom of St. Edmund & other subjects : Fritton (nr. Great Yarmouth) (‡Norwich) C.12

Photo:T.Marshall Martyrdom of S. Edmund & other subjects, apse, Fritton [64KB]
On the left is the apse in the ancient church at Fritton, painted with the Martyrdom of King Edmund of the East Angles. The Martyrdom itself is in the triangular area above the rounded arch (the stained glass is modern) and flanking it are two very faint figures representing the True Church (left) and Unbelief or Paganism (right). Below these two figures are four archers, two on either side, shooting at Edmund. Below these again are, on the right, a saint who may be Peter, and on the left an unknown figure without a halo who may be the donor.

Detailed photographs are below, and a link at the top left of this page will take you to other paintings on this site of comparably early date, while the table of links at the bottom of the page leads to on site paintings of other saints. At the right is the central portion, showing in the centre the fragmentary figure of Edmund himself standing beside and possibly tied to, the slender tree on the right. There is virtually nothing left of his figure apart from his crown, which has a square, castellated top like a battlemented parapet. But various arrows, piercing the tree as well as Edmund, show fairly clearly Martyrdom of St. Edmund, central portion [139KB], and a figure who is probably the huntsman who found the king’s body stands at the far left, possibly pulling out one of the arrows.

Lower down is an allusion to one of the most popular legends about Edmund, that of the wolf (or dog) who found his severed head. The creature stands on its hind legs, front paws braced, presumably against another tree, head turned to look at the saint. The story of the wolf who guarded Edmund’s head until it was found was enormously popular, especially in East Anglia, and there is a bench-end carved with the wolf and the head at Hoxne in Suffolk, which has always claimed to be the true place of the martyrdom.

Martyrdom of St. Edmund, Fritton, detail, lefthand side [71KB] The photograph at the left shows the left hand side of the apse wall. There are three tiers, and there is is very little left of the subject at the top, but the symbolic figure representing the True Church (top left) holds a small red-painted cross (possibly once a processional Cross with a long shaft). There may be a building in the background, and/or the figure may hold a model of a church. Immediately below are the two archers, and below them the unidentified figure who is either a donor or a saint. The photograph below right shows the righthand side, described below. Martyrdom of S. Edmund, Fritton, detail, righthand side [64KB]

The most important thing about the figure at the top right, representing Unbelief or Paganism is that she is spilling water from a pitcher (detail, top right). As a general rule, this figure, who is also sometimes described as ‘Synagogue’ and represents the limitations of the Old Law, is blindfolded and has a broken staff. It is impossible now to know whether the broken staff and blindfold were once visible here. There is no association with an upturned pitcher as far as I know, but spilling water is sometimes an attribute of Intemperance, Excess or Emptiness in its metaphorical meaning of ‘Vanitas’. There may simply be confusion about categories of personification here; alternatively, it is possible that the emphasis is on Blind Ignorance, which understands nothing and whose teaching is thus vain. In some ways the figure is close to a minor allegorical character in Spenser’s sprawling 16th century epic The Faerie Queene, who spills the water from her pitcher and runs away in fear when she encounters personified Truth¹.
Two more archers are below this figure, one of them with legs very elegantly crossed, and below them is a haloed figure with what is possibly a key at the top left. St. Peter is thus a possibility, but if this is a key, the figure is not holding it, and other names, such as St. Felix (of Dunwich) the 7th century Burgundian evangelist and later bishop of the East Angles, or his Irish contemporary St. Fursey, who founded a monastery at nearby Burgh Castle, have been suggested.

Incomplete and faint as these paintings now are, they are important as early survivals in the commemoration history of a very popular saint. The ancient carving around the arch of the apse is visible in the photographs; the two iron rings which once supported the Lenten Veil in front of the Sanctuary are still there, and the fourteenth century painting of St. Christopher in the nave is also on these pages.

¹Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene:Books 1-111; ed. D. Brooks-Davies, Everyman, 1987, Book 1, Cantos X-X1. Spenser’s character runs home to her equally ignorant mother, called Corceca (‘blind of heart’, as in Ephesians 4:18). Spenser’s context is a Reformation one of Catholic v. Protestant, but the structural similarity in the allegory remains, I think.

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 2000