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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Colton, Norfolk (†Norwich) C.14/15

The Warning Against Idle Gossip

Warning against Idle Gossip, Colton, Norfolk

This painting, reported to have been destroyed, was an unexpected find. It still exists, as can be seen, but has been partly obscured by the erection of a gallery at the west end of the church. Its condition is poor, but the subject is identifiable and the main details, shared by many other examples of the subject, especially in East Anglia, are clear enough.

Two women sit in the centre of a trestle-like bench, each holding a rosary with red beads. Their heads have virtually disappeared, but their attention is clearly on the workmanship of the rosaries rather than on spiritual matters. The woman on the left has the buttoned bodice seen on one of her counterparts at Little Melton, also in Norfolk, and not far from Colton. To the left, standing behind her on the bench is a red devil with a curly tail who is pushing or clawing at her. An unreadable speech-scroll is above his head.

The woman on the right is similarly clothed, the folds of her robe delineated in red, and behind (i.e. to the right of her) stands another devil, this one hairy-limbed and with his foot in the small of the woman’s back. A speech-scroll above appears to contain nonsense syllables, perhaps making this devil the celebrated Tutivillus, who features in the poem quoted in the Introduction to this subject. There is probably another small devil on the ground at the extreme right of the painting, but this area is very obscure.

Conoisseurs of the Warning against Idle Gossip may like to know that there is a small, diamond-shaped example in glass at Stanford-on-Avon and a very interesting misericord with the subject at Enville in Staffordshire. Another wall painting, at Wissington in Suffolk, is in a parlous state and probably beyond redemption, although I will continue to keep an eye on it.

† in page heading = Diocese