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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Barton, Cambridgeshire (†Ely) C.14

St Dunstan Holding the Devil by the Nose

St Dunstan holding the Devil by the nose, Barton, Cambridgeshire

This much damaged painting at Barton is now the only one of Dunstan remaining in English church wallpainting (one recorded at Stifford in Essex has been obliterated or destroyed).

The easiest detail to make out in the photograph above is probably the pair of long-handled tongs with which Dunstan caught the Devil by the nose. These are in the horizontal centre of the painting, with Dunstan himself, reduced to a few details of head, shoulders, chest and extended arm, standing at the left. The head of the trapped Devil, with his prominent nose and large projecting ears, shows fairly well at the right, and another figure at the extreme right may belong to a different painting.

Dunstan was of course a real person; after a varied and eventful career, including a period of banishment from the court of King Athelstan on suspicion of dabbling in pagan magic, he was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. He also had strong associations with metalworking, as well as painting and music – metalworker’s tools surviving at Mayfield in Sussex are said to have belonged to him – but an illustrated MS¹ now in the Bodleian library, including what may be a self-portrait, probably has a stronger claim to authenticity.

There are useful comparisons to be made with St Eloi, another metalworker who had a short and efficient way with devilish manifestations (paintings at Wensley and elsewhere on this site). Both saints are good examples of genuine historical figures around whom colourful legends clustered.

There are a number of other paintings at Barton. Many are rather unclear, but both St Antony and the Pig and St George and the Dragon are newly on the site.

Website for St Peter’s, Barton

¹ MS Auct., F.IV. 32, Bodleian Library, Oxford