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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire (†Peterborough) c.1325

Martyrdom of St Margaret

Martyrdom of St Margaret, Ashby St Ledgers

The painting is at the east end of the south wall, beside the organ. This makes it difficult to see, and difficult to photograph clearly. But this is St Margaret (of Antioch) and not St Catherine – EW Tristram’s identification¹ was correct, despite what is said in the otherwise excellent church brochure.

St Catherine certainly suffered many vicious tortures, but Margaret was the only early female saint to be hanged by her hair and then flagellated. The bar around which her hair was wound has effectively disappeared, but the saint’s hair, piled up and knotted on top of her head, shows fairly clearly in this photograph.

The relevant section of the account of her Martyrdom in the Golden Legend describes the torture thus: “Then the provost commanded her to be hanged in an instrument to torment the people, and to be cruelly first beaten with rods, and with iron combs to rend and draw her flesh to the bones, insomuch that the blood ran about out of her body, like as a stream runneth out of a fresh springing well…”. The ‘instrument to torment the people’ is generally taken to be a gibbet, and John Mirk, in his early 15th century Festial² makes the specific point that Margaret was hanged by her hair when she rejected Olybrius’s advances ‘… And for scho wold not asent to hym, he made forto honge her vp by fe here, and soo bet her wyth scowrgis…’. In this photograph Margaret is placed centrally, with one torturer in a red and green tunic wielding a cat-o'nine-tails scourge at the left and traces of another at the right. Some shadowy details at the far right beyond this man seem to be the remains of earlier painting, although I think there is also a pentimento here, in that the placing of the right-hand torturer’s legs has been changed.

This particular incident in Margaret’s martyrdom is also shown on the page for the painting at Duxford, where there is also a preview of another at Little Kimble (on here soon). Stoke Dry also has a scene of Margaret’s scourging, although it is hard to be sure whether she is hanging or simply standing.

Other paintings of St Margaret on this site are in the table below. The painting of St Christopher at Ashby St Ledgers is also new at this update and more paintings from this unspoilt church will be here in due course.

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

¹ Tristram1, p.136
² J Mirk, Festial, (EETS edition), Homily for the Feast-Day of St Margaret, (Mirk’s Festial is available to download or read online at the Internet Online Library)