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Crucifixion/St. James with pilgrims, Wisborough Green, West Sussex (Chichester) 1200-1250

Photo:T.Marshall  Crucifixion/St. James with pilgrims, Wisborough Green [41KB]
The paintings are in a niche on the south side of the chancel arch wall. They are the only ones surviving at Wisborough Green, and both have unusual features.
Above, (photo left) St. James the Great stands in the centre. He has a halo and a long pilgrim’s staff with a cross. His green cloak is clasped at the throat with a fastening in the form of a large scallop shell, his emblem, and around his waist is slung a pilgrim’s satchel with another scallop shell (there were once two more) on it. In his left hand he holds a book.
At the far left is a fragment of a figure of Christ, identifiable by his tripartite halo and also holding a cross-staff, while at the top between these two figures is a fragment of illusionistic brickwork.

In fact the whole background, including the righthand soffit of the arch, is painted to give the appearance of a church. At the apex of the arch and visible in the photograph below right is an illusionistic (interior) church roof. The dark area at the ‘top’ represents the roof itself, with some ribbed vaulting. Below this are two ranges of windows St. James greeting pilgrims, Wisborough Green [28KB] and below them a group of pilgrims (originally three, now reduced effectively to two) being greeted by St. James. The first of the three has a plain staff and a satchel ornamented with a scallop-shell over his arm. The second, holding a staff in front of him, wears a pilgrim’s hat. The Church’s approval and encouragement of pilgrimage could hardly be more clearly expressed.

Below the feet of St. James and the pilgrim is a band of wavy ornament, and below that some illusionistic architecture making a background to the paintings below. Three triangular gables are visible, all with windows - on the leftCrucifixion, Wisborough Green, detail [20KB] quatrefoils, in the centre narrow lancets, and on the right, mainly obscured, round (photo, left). Below these, a very unusual Cross in grey is painted on a whitish ground.
Christ, wearing a knee-length red loincloth is fastened to the Cross at the left in the standard manner, but the transverse bar of his Cross extends to the right, and one of the Thieves hangs on it, arms pinioned behind his back (or possibly fastened in front of him - it is difficult to be sure). EW Tristram¹ assumed that this must be the Penitent Thief, who was assured of his place in Paradise [Luke 23:39-43], and the sharing of the Cross-bar seems to confirm this - the Thief’s placing at Christ’s left, rather than the more ‘honourable’ right was probably dictated by considerations of space. A youthful St. John stands beside the Thief, next to Stephaton with a sponge and a large red ewer (his face according to Tristram was originally ‘a hideous caricature’), and at the extreme left, Longinus gives Christ the death-blow with his lance, and raises his hand to his newly-sighted eye.

This Crucifixion also has another very unusual feature in that the crucified Christ is wearing a crown. This, I suspect, was intended to give an extra, and specific, moral dimension - the man crucified in Jerusalem may have been just another itinerant prophet - an ‘inglorious man’, as John Donne has it (see the Warning to Swearers/Sabbath Breakers, Introduction), but humankind’s daily persistence in sin repeatedly re-enacts the Crucifixion of the revealed King of Glory. There might once have been a subsidiary altar below this painting, but in any event it faces the assembled worshippers in the nave directly, and that is probably deliberate.

Other early and remarkable paintings in Sussex, such as those at Hardham, have received a good deal of attention from modern writers, thus overshadowing these at Wisborough Green. But this very idiosyncratic and quite possibly unique treatment of the Crucifixion ought to be better known.

¹ Tristram 11, p. 625

Website for St Peter ad Vincula, Wisborough Green

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 2001