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St. Nicholas & the Three Boys in the Barrel, Padworth, Berkshire (‡) c.1225-50

Photo: T.Marshall St Nicholas as standing figure, Padworth (162KB)

There are two paintings of St Nicholas of Myra at Padworth. S. Nicholas & the 3 Boys in the Barrel, Padworth (140KB)Both are very faint now, but in the upper painting at the south side of the chancel arch (photo, left) he stands within a rounded arch. The remains of his mitre show as vague yellow (probably implying gold) patches just below the red-painted curve of the arch, with his head and face barely visible below. His clothing is that of a bishop of his day, with the pointed lower edge of his chasuble showing as a reddish triangular shape lower down his figure. Tristram¹ could see his crozier, but this has faded into invisibility now.

But the crozier is clearer in the scene at the right, which is painted on a much smaller scale below the standing figure of Nicholas, and shows one of the more colourful legends that clustered around the the saint, a 4th century bishop of Myra (now Mugla in southern Turkey). Nicholas is the figure at the far right, his mitre and vestments clearer as he extends his right arm and hand in blessing. The three boys, set in the brine-tub by an evil butcher, are further left, the one nearest to Nicholas holding out his arm towards the saviour-saint, and half turning to look at his companions. The boys’ heads are very close together, and Tristram could see that all were wearing conical hats. In one of the most interesting circumstantial touches I have seen in a medieval English painting, their other garments are apparently draped over a rod at the top of the scene². At the far left, also in a conical hat, is a standing man with arms raised in amazement, presumably the butcher himself. Almost nothing is left of the brine-tube itself, but what must have been a similar barrel is one of the few clear details in the example of the subject remaining at Little Horwood.

The boys in the barrel incident is, in all probability, a conflation of other incidents narrated in the various versions of Nicholas’ story, where the number three recurs again and again. But the tale of the butcher and the boys was too colourfully gruesome not to pass into folklore, especially that fertile area of folklore involving lost or errant children, and it seems to have done so at an early date. The excellent St. Nicholas centre website has numerous links, illustrations and versions of his story for adults and children alike. Other paintings of incidents in the life of St Nicholas are in the table below.

¹ Tristram 2, p.587
² In some versions of the story the ‘boys’ are theology students, which may account for the rather formal-looking robes and hats

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

The Saints : Introduction     Main Site Contents Page       Home Page 27/11/2009

Anne Marshall 2009