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The Life of St. Catherine, Pickering, N.Yorks (York) C.15

Photos : T.Marshall

The damaged example at Sporle apart, this is the fullest painted version of the Life of St. Catherine of Alexandria in the English church. It is a very large painting, arranged in four tiers. The highest of these, difficult to photograph but decipherable, is shown below left.
Life of St. Catherine, Pickering, top tier (78KB)It begins at the furthest left, with the pagan idol-worship about which Catherine protested. The idol itself, which has upstanding hair resembling flames and holds what looks like a spiked club, stands on a red plinth. Next to it is another, slimmer, plinth, shown in its entirety. This is evidently a pagan altar - fire, presumably of sacrifice, burns on top of it, and various persons stand or kneel in adoration. Music on brass instruments, one of them an early trombone, recently evolved from the sackbut, accompanies the proceedings.

Further to the right, beyond the worshippers, Catherine, now condemned to prison, stands with hands clasped in prayer while the Emperor, holding his curved sword or falchion, presides from his throne. At the far right, with hand raised in protest, Catherine is dragged to prison. Life of St. Catherine, Pickering, second tier (84KB)

In the next tier below (photo, right), Catherine, released from prison, disputes with the fifty philosophers sent by the Emperor to debate with her and converts them to Christianity instead. They are duly condemned and burnt, and further right, although there is no sign of the fire, a soldier with a lance and a ‘comedy’ hat corrals them into a squatting group, while another stands behind. In the approximate centre of this tier, Catherine is back in prison, just visible through the barred window of the narrow prison-house, while further right she is brought out and Life of S.Catherine, Pickering, 3rd tier (108KB)scourged, with the Emperor again looking on.

Thrust back into prison (left), Catherine is brought out again to be condemned with the now-converted Empress. Both women are shown kneeling, attended by angels, at the centre left. One angel holds a covered chalice or incense jar and something else, perhaps a book - both possibly symbolic of the new religion the Empress has embraced. Catherine appears again at the centre right, flanked by the four wheels with which she was tortured. Divine intervention broke them, and they are shown in fragments here, along with a number of fallen soldiers, felled by the exploding wheels, and the now-familiar figure of the Emperor.Life of S.Catherine, Pickering, lowest tier (122KB)

The lowest tier is entirely taken up with the final scene in Catherine’s life, her beheading. Catherine kneels, her long hair over her face and her royal crown on the ground beside the Emperor’s chair. A hovering angel blesses her as the executioner raises his sword. The Emperor shares the authority-undermining headgear of his retainers; it shows well here, and his falchion is replaced by an elaborate sceptre.

Inscriptions are visible in the second tier of this painting, and the form of some of the letters (enlarged b/w detail below) suggests a mixture of Latin and late Middle English, something found elsewhere in the paintings at Pickering. So far as I know, no-one has yet deciphered these, and I can make out nothing with certainty, although the odd word or part of a word suggests itself here and there. Others may have more success, but it is hard to reproduce this kind of thing clearly on-screen.Life of S.Catherine, Pickering, inscription (77KB)

There are many other paintings at Pickering. The fine St. Christopher is newly on the site: also here are the Martyrdom of St. Edmund (with a new photograph), the reorganised Seven Works of Mercy and the new Passion Cycle. The remaining subjects will be here soon.

Website for SS Peter & Paul, Pickering

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 2002