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St. Cuthbert (c.634-687), a native Englishman and monk who eventually became prior and later bishop of Lindisfarne is by far the most famous saint of northern England. This is the sole surviving set of paintings (hearsay evidence suggests that there were once many more) in this church, and indeed, Durham cathedral apart, in county Durham. (I would be happy to be proved wrong on this, so please contact me if you know of any others). They are in the splays of a window at the west end of the church.
At the right is a complete view of the window aperture and its splays. In the centre of the arch, above the aperture, is some very elaborate foliated scrollwork which may be intended symbolically for vines - it resembles quite closely the detail below the figure of a prophet at Little Easton. This kind of beautifully controlled, flowing detail is typical of very high quality early decorative work.
The enlarged detail at the left below shows the scene in the lefthand splay of the window, where Cuthbert is consecrated bishop (Cuthbert is the tonsured figure kneeling at the left, having the holy oil poured over his head by Archbishop Theodore). The crowned man at the far right of the scene is probably King Egfrith of Northumbria, who was present at the consecration in York.
More than any others in the English parish church, it seems to me, the Pittington paintings show the final achievement of a fully English Romanesque style, short-lived as this turned out to be. The eyes are large and basically almond in shape, but the figures have lost the remote and rather chilly icon-like quality found in so much Continental Byzantine art. The only possible comparison is with the contemporary painting of St. Cuthbert at Durham cathedral, and for once the similarities are so marked that it seems safe to say that the same hand painted them both. Pittington is only a few miles from Durham city.
At the right is the painting in the righthand splay of the window, the only depiction known to me of St. Cuthberts vision at the table of Abbess Aelfleda of Whitby, a close friend whom he visited more than once. The story behind this narrative painting is in Bedes Life of Cuthbert, and a version of it can be found in Chapter XXXIV of the Medieval Sourcebook
Cuthbert, who had by this time become Bishop of Lindisfarne, and Aelfleda met on this occasion on Coquet island off the coast of Northumberland. The photograph shows the moment when, eating at Aelfledas table, the knife fell from his hand as he saw in a vision the soul of a holy man being taken to Heaven. There is more scrollwork at the top of this painting, and below that the holy mans soul painted as a small figure lying horizontally across the space, head at the right, legs in the air and one hand extended downwards. The saints story relates that at that moment, a messenger came in with the news that one of Aelfledas servants had fallen to his death from a tree.
This messenger is the young man in a light brown tunic at the far right of the scene, his hand on the table, speaking to Aelfleda, who wears a green veil around her head and raises her right hand from the table in shock. A tall man, also in brown, stands behind, and then comes Cuthbert in a red cloak, his left hand gripping the edge of the table as the truth of his vision is confirmed. The table is set with a fish on a dish, a cup for wine or other drink, and bread. The draped table and the robes of those sitting at it show the elegantly looping dampfold modelling characteristic of the best Romanesque painting. The frozen moment is beautifully captured in an anonymous masterpiece that is in no way inferior to the paintings in Durham cathedral, or indeed anywhere else in England at this period.
A contemporary of Cuthbert, the monk and hagiologist Reginald of Durham declared that the three most popular saints in England were Cuthbert, Edmund and Etheldreda. All three had bodies found to be incorrupt long after their deaths, a phenomenon always regarded as a sign of great sanctity in the Middle Ages. Given the sheer quality of these paintings, it is a great pity that none of the others said to have been at Pittington have survived.
Website for St. Laurence, Pittington
|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|
March 25 2010
© Anne Marshall 2010