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Life of St. James the Great : Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire (‡Gloucester) C.12

Photo:T.Marshall
Legend of St. James the Great, Stoke Orchard. Philetus giving Hermogenes James's staff [100KB]The detail at the left shows one of the few fairly clear areas in the early but badly damaged and faded Life of St. James at Stoke Orchard. The incident presented comes from the end of the Saint’s legend¹, which was once painted in considerable detail on all the walls of the church. At this point in the complicated story, James, by superior magic, has emerged triumphant from his encounter with the pagan enchanter Hermogenes, who was treated by James thereafter with great magnanimity. The man holding out a staff at the centre left is Hermogenes’s son, Philetus, already converted by James. Hermogenes himself, a large figure in the kind of ‘eastern’ hat which so frequently signifies heathenism, stands at the right extending his hand to receive the staff, which will protect him from the devils who St. James baptizing converts, Stoke Orchard [102KB]have brought him to James.

Unfortunately no clear detail of the saint himself has survived, and that shown at the left is the least obscure. Enough remains (left of picture) to show the outline of James’s head, halo and what looks like a bishop’s mitre - if so, it might have been bestowed on him by the painter simply as a sign of eminence, or possibly by confusion with St. James the Less, first bishop of Jerusalem. His hands, extended to the left in prayer, also show in outline. He is baptizing converts here, and what is left of three of their heads is at the right. The starry background found in all the scenes, and the elaborate border surrounding them, also shows here. These borders, some of them incorporating serpents’ heads in the stylized foliage, are remarkable in themselves.

The theme of the vanquishing of pagan magic is found throughout the painted series, and in the scene below at the right this is manifested in the falling of the idols worshipped by the pagans.

The idols are the semi-recumbent figures at the left, shown in the act of falling. The lower one (in the cross-hatched robe) has notably curling, unruly hair, invariably a sign of evil purpose of some kind. James, in the centre, has been reduced again to halo, mitre and hair (straight), but he is holding his staff in his left hand and this is just discernible. The figure at the right, with a very large halo and gently waving long hair, is Christ, blessing James’s work. Most of the other scenes are now too fragmentary to be anything other than confusing in reproduction, but one detail St. James causes the Idols to fall. Christ blessing, Stoke Orchard [112KB]is a little clearer. This is a boat, painted in yellow, (detail below left) and with at least three figures on board. According to Clive Rouse, these are James, the now-converted Hermogenes and Philetus, who were towards the end of the story put in the boat and cast adrift, but by whom is not clear. I cannot find a source for this idea, but various versions of the legend include a boat, the least incredible claiming that James’s body, after his beheading in Judaea under Herod Agrippa, was taken by his followers first to the Mediterranean port of Joppa and then in a boat (made of marble) by miraculous agency to Spain, where his famous shrine at Compostela remains. Marble or not, the pictured boat resembles very closely the kind of coracle, made rather more practically of leather and withies, used on the nearby river Severn since time immemorial. boat with St. James & 2 other figures, Stoke Orchard [47KB]

Most English church paintings of St. James, including all those now on the site, show him as a straightforward standing figure, sometimes accompanied by others, as at Wisborough Green. A few narrative Lives of the saint are recorded though, notably at Guildford in Surrey and Little Kimble in Buckinghamshire, but both are later than the Stoke Orchard example. For other paintings of various subjects but comparably early date, follow the link at the top left of this page.

¹ The Golden Legend of Jacobus da Voragine is the usual source for this kind of story, but Clive Rouse, who saw and drew copies of these paintings when they were in a better state, noticed that there are details in them not found in the Legend, which in any case post-dates them. One likely alternative source is the Pseudo-Abdias, an earlier collection of saints’s lives accepted as authoritative by the Church. Appropriate parts of it were certainly read in churches on saints’ days, from the 12th century at least. Emile Mâle (Religious Art in France, X111 century, pp. 295) cites a 12th century lectionary which includes the Life of St. James as taken from the pseudo-Abdias [Bibliotheque Sainte-Geneviève, MS 132, f.127 v.]. Another possible source is the homilist Aelfric, first Abbot of Eynsham from 1005. Aelfric’s Homily 27 (Aelfric’s Catholic Homilies, second series, EETS, n.s.5, London, 1979) is cited by JB Russell in Lucifer : The Devil in the Middle Ages, (Cornell, 1984 p. 158 fn ) as containing the Hermogenes story, but whether Aelfric’s Homilies were still being used by priests after the Norman Conquest I do not know.

Purgatorial Ladder, with the Seven Deadly Sins, Chaldon, Surrey NEW

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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18/12/2001

Anne Marshall 2001