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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Barton, Cambridgeshire (†Ely) earlier C.14

St Antony and the Pig

St Antony and the Pig, Barton

This is the saint, a real historical figure, otherwise known as St Antony of Egypt, St Antony Abbot or St Antony Hospitaller. He was both a highly skilled debater who participated vigorously in the refutation of the Arian heresy, and a miracle-worker with a reputation for healing animals as well as people. In particular, pigs belonging to the Order he founded were permitted to roam at liberty, and the pig eventually passed into iconography as the emblem of the saint.

At the left he is vested as an Abbot and holds a book in his left hand and a crozier or pastoral staff in his right. He is standing on a pig, less clear than his own figure, but facing right at the bottom of the painting beneath his feet, its cloven hooves and snout showing fairly well. At the far left is a small figure who seems to be supplicating the saint with hands outstretched, but this particular detail has become very unclear now.

Outbreaks of the horrifying and almost always fatal disease, later attributed to fungus-tainted cereal grain, that came to be known as St Antony’s Fire were frequent and widespread during the Middle Ages. The Hospitallers of the Antonine Order specialised in its treatment, usually a matter of palliative nursing until the inevitable end. For this reason among others, St Antony became a hugely popular saint, but although there are one or two other examples still in existence, depictions of him are rare in the English church now.

Another seldom-found saint, Dunstan, is also at Barton, and the more familiar St George defeating the Dragon is newly here now. I will try to include some of the other paintings in the church in due course, although the condition of some of them is very poor.

Website for St Peter’s, Barton