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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Bishopsbourne, Kent (†Canterbury) C.14

St Nicholas & the Three Boys in the Barrel

St Nicholas & the 3 boys in the barrel, Bishopsbourne, Kent

This latest addition to the site’s pages on St Nicholas is one of the best preserved in England. It is certainly in far better condition than the example at Padworth in Berkshire, but have a look at that page for an account of the boys-in-the-barrel incident.

At Bishopsbourne, the boys are still firmly in the butcher’s pickling-tub, all three facing right, with hands held out in prayer. At the right is very dilapidated painted area which once showed St Nicholas himself. Almost all of his figure is gone, but his eyes and one of two more details of his face are detectable at the top right of the painting. I suspect he would have been an imposing figure when the painting was first made. His right hand is raised and held out towards the boys. On the left of the barrel, a kneeling figure wearing the kind of close-fitting cap usually seen on respectable peasant women, is probably the mother of one of the boys, or a generic figure standing for all of their mothers. This kneeling figure could alternatively be the butcher himself, now penitent and pardoned by Nicholas, but I think this is unlikely.