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This cross is, I think, likely to be of a later date and nothing to do with this scene. Whether this also applies to the drapery is harder to decide. It looks contemporary with the Three Marys, but its loops and swags obscure the broad horizontal border, outlined in dark grey, that divides this zone of the wall from the area below, where there is a further border with red hollow circles on a white ground, and below that an obscure figure and an area of shaded chequerboard tesselation (these details are pictured at the bottom of the page). Moreover, it is hard to believe that having painted these hieratic, processional figures, a painter would then mask them with this kind of decorative detail, unless it has some elusive symbolic significance. One such possibility, although it does not seem to me very likely, is that it is intended as a veil drawn over the sepulchre itself, concealing the mystery of the Resurrection. But when the paintings at Kempley were discovered in 1872, there were various layers of painting on the nave walls, most markedly on the south wall, but elsewhere as well. The simplest explanation - that this drapery is a later overlay, might well be the correct one. Painted draperies from virtually all periods feature in the English parish church, and on this site Martley has an example.
The Three Marys at the Sepulchre is now very rare indeed, but in the 12th and 13th centuries it was probably much more popular than the surviving evidence suggests. For one thing, it has specific connections to liturgy and the beginnings of medieval drama via the Quem quaeritis?² trope, the question and answer that from the tenth century on preceded the celebration of Mass on Easter Day.
Another probable Three Marys is part of the Passion Cycle at Amberley in Sussex. Two more forthcoming from Sussex are Hardham, very faint but even earlier than Kempley, and West Chiltington, equally faint but of the thirteenth century. There is what is probably another example, much clearer and 14th century in date, at Belchamp Walter in Essex and this too is now on the site. Winterbourne Dauntsey, in Wiltshire, once had a remarkably clear painting of the subject, but it now survives only as a drawing (Plate 72) in Tristrams 13th century volume³
L: Unidentified figure under illusionistic arch. R : The chancel arch wall, showing the tesselated pattern and this figure. The latter is almost certainly contemporary with the Three Marys and the chancel paintings, where the detail on the illusionistic arches is very similar. The patterned area might be later.
¹ Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and (Mary) Salome. Only Mark (16:1) names all three, but all four Gospels relate the incident.
² Interrogatio. Quem quaeritis in sepulchro, o Christicolae? Responsio. Jesum Nazarenum crucifixum, o caelicolae. Angeli. Non est hic; surrexit, sicut praedixerat. Ite, nuntiate quia surrexit de sepulchro. [Question (Angel). Whom do ye seek in the sepulchre, O followers of Christ? Answer (Marys). Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, O heavenly ones. Angel. He is not here: he is risen, just as he foretold. Go, announce that he is risen from the sepulchre]. The Quem quaeritis, originally part of the liturgy, became an acted-out piece of dialogue, with one speaker representing the Angel and three others who approach him as if seeking something. It developed over time, losing its connection with the Mass and drawing various non-Biblical additions, such as a scene of the Marys buying the spices for the anointing, round it.
³ EW Tristram, English Medieval Wall Painting : The Twelfth Century, Plates, Vol 1, Plate 72 [see Bibliography]
Purgatorial Ladder, with the Seven Deadly Sins, Chaldon, Surrey NEW
Passion Cycle, Ickleton, Cambs
Painted Anglo-Saxon Inscription, Breamore, Hampshire
Painted Rood (Crucifixion), Breamore Hampshire
Suicide of Judas (later), Breamore, Hampshire
Judgement with Apostles, Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk Allegorical Joust, Claverley, Shropshire
David overcoming the Lion/(repainted) Knight representing a Virtue, Copford, Essex
Raising of Jairuss daughter, Copford, Essex
Martyrdom of S.Edmund & other subjects, Fritton, Norfolk
Apostle or Prophet, Little Easton, Essex Christ in Majesty, Kempley, Gloucestershire
The Three Marys (Maries) at the sepulchre, Kempley, Gloucestershire
The Fall & its Aftermath, Hardham, Sussex
Life of St. James, Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire
Apostles & angels supporting Christ in Majesty, West Chiltington, Sussex St. Martin dividing his cloak, Wareham, Dorset
Christ in Majesty, with Judgement details, Clayton, Sussex
King Herod & an attendant, and the Flight into Egypt, Coombes, Sussex NEW
Christ in Majesty, with Traditio Legis & and illusionistic painted figure, Coombes, Sussex NEW
© Anne Marshall 2002