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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire (†Peterborough) C.14

St Christopher

St Christopher, Ashby St Ledgers

In the customary position opposite the south door at Ashby St Ledgers is this early fifteenth-century painting of St Christopher, and it must surely be one of the most appealing examples of the subject in the English church.

The infant Christ, very unusually, rides piggy-back astride Christopher’s shoulders, his bare left foot held securely by the saint’s hand. Overall, the painting is competent, rather than high-class, work, but time and care have been taken over it, and it is touching in its homely truth to common practice and common observation. The Christ Child holds the orb of the world in his left hand, while his right is raised in blessing. Christopher, his facial features and beard carefully delineated, looks up at him in tender concern.

St Christopher, Ashby St Ledgers, detail, aquatic life

Below, various sea-creatures swim around Christopher’s feet, all of them looking more or less malign, especially the sharp-toothed fish in the centre. The eel-like creature snaking between his feet is a lamprey, attached by its sucker-mouth to his ankle. Beyond to the right, and overlapping Christopher’s heel, is a damaged fragment of a three-masted ship, with perhaps another vessel further right.

One of the most remarkable things about this painting is the inclusion within its border of a coat of arms (top left of photograph, beside Christopher’s right hand). They are the arms of Catesby, a name resounding down the centuries in English history. William Catesby, chancellor to Richard III, was captured at Bosworth Field (1485) and died in prison shortly afterwards. His descendants, who lived at Ashby St Ledgers, were Catholic recusants who stayed loyal to the Old Faith even during the time of persecution, and one of them, Robert Catesby, was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 – historians argue to this day about how deeply.

There are more paintings at Ashby, including the Martyrdom of St Margaret, also new on the site at this update, and a damaged but interesting Passion Cycle over and around the chancel arch. There is also a fine medieval stained glass panel of a bishop, thought to be St Leodegarius (whose name was anglicised to Ledger). Other on-site paintings of St Christopher are in the table below, as usual.

Website of the Blessed Virgin Mary & St Leodegarius, Ashby St Ledgers

† in page heading = Diocese